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Philadelphia : 

Patterson & White Company, 


• • • • 





Library of Congress 

Two Copies Received 
FEB 19 190) 

^ Cwprif ht entry 

FIRST copy 


Copyrighted, 1900, 


Patterson & White Co. 


At the February, 1894, meeting of the Odonto- 
logical Society of Pennsylvania, attention was called 
to the fact that in the coming December would oc- 
cur the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of an- 
esthesia by Horace Wells, and a resolution was of- 
fered that a committee be appointed to promote a 
fitting celebration of that great event. Drs. J. D. 
Thomas, Louis Jack, A. P. Brubaker, E. C. Kirk, 
and D. N. McQuillen were appointed as the com- 

The idea prospered until it grew to such dimen- 
sions that it was deemed proper to make the celebra- 
tion a national affair. 

At the meeting of the American Dental Associa- 
tion held at Old Point Comfort, August 7, 1894, Dr. 
J. D. Thomas, of Philadelphia, offered a resolution 
for the appointment of a committee of nine to take 
into consideration and report at that meeting meas- 
ures for the proper celebration in December, 1894, 
of the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of anes- 
thesia by Horace Wells. The resolution was 



adopted and the following gentlemen were ap- 
pointed: Drs. Thos. Fillebrown, of Boston; J. Taft, 
Cincinnati; Jas. McManus, Hartford; W. H. Mor- 
gan, Nashville; W. C. Barrett, Buffalo; A. W. Har- 
lan, Chicago; H. J. McKellops, St. Louis; Thos. A. 
Weeks, Minneapolis, and J. D.Thomas, Philadelphia. 
The committee at a later session presented the 
following report : 

Mr. President and Gentlemen : 

Your Committee upon Anesthesia would report that it has 
agreed upon the following motions : 

First. That the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of 
anesthesia by Horace Wells should be properly celebrated by 
the dental profession of America. 

Second. That the celebration should comprise the presenta- 
tion of two papers : one upon the "History of the Discovery of 
Anesthesia," and the other, upon the "Application of Anesthesia 
to Surgery and its Benefits to Mankind" ; and that Dr. Thomas 
Fillebrown, of Boston, Mass., be invited to present the paper 
upon the "History of Anesthesia," and that Dr. J. E. Garretson, 
of Philadelphia, Pa., be invited to present the one upon the 
"Application of Anesthesia to Surgery." 

Third. That a banquet be given in honor of the event, at 
which prominent gentlemen shall be invited to make addresses, 
and that the papers and addresses, properly edited, shall be com- 
piled and preserved in a memorial volume appropriate to the 
importance of the occasion. 

Fourth. That after the claims and advantages of the cities of 
Hartford, Boston, Washington, New York, and Philadelphia had 
been presented and discussed, Philadelphia was unanimously 
selected as the place of meeting. 

Fifth. That there be three committees appointed ; an organi- 
zation committee of nine, an executive committee of eleven, and 
a general committee of fifty. 

The following gentlemen were nominated upon the several 
committees : 

Committee upon Organization. — J. D. Thomas, James Mc- 
Manus, H. J. McKellops, Thomas Fillebrown, A. W. Harlan, 
Thomas E. Weeks, J. Taft, W. H. Morgan, W. C. Barrett. 


Executive Committee. — J. D. Thomas, E. T. Darby, S. H. 
Guilford, D. N. McQuillen, E. C. Kirk/Louis Jack, C. N. Peirce, 
Philadelphia; A. L. Northrop, Wm. Carr, New York; H. B. 
Noble, Washington, D. C. ; Jas. McManus, Hartford, Conn. 

General Committee. — Dana W. Fellows, Maine ; James Lewis, 
Vermont; J. L. Williams, R. R. Andrews, Massachusetts; E. D. 
Gaylord, Connecticut ; C. A. Brackett, Rhode Island ; S. B. 
Palmer, S. G. Perry, O. E. Hill, W. W. Walker, New York; 
R. M. Sanger, C. A. Meeker, New Jersey; C. R. Jefferis, Dela- 
ware; J. A. Libbey, W. H. Fundenberg, Pennsylvania; B. Holly 
Smith, M. W. Foster, Maryland; J. H. Moore, Virginia; V. E. 
Turner, North Carolina; T. T. Moore, South Carolina; H. W. 
Coyle, B. H. Catching, Georgia; C. P. Robinson, Alabama; Geo. 
B. Clements, Mississippi; G. J. Friedrichs, Louisiana; W.'R. 
Clifton, Texas; A. H. Fuller, J. D. Patterson, Missouri; A. O. 
Hunt, Iowa; C. M. Baily, Minnesota; T. W. Brophy, G. V. 
Black, G. H. Cushing, Illinois; S. B. Brown, Indiana; J. S. 
Cassidy, F. Peabody, Kentucky; J. Y. Crawford, H. E. Beach, 
Tennessee; G. L. Field, Michigan; H. A. Smith, C. R. Butler, 
A. F. Emminger, Ohio ; A. H. Thompson, Kansas ; A. W. Nason, 
Nebraska; G. H. McCausey, Wisconsin; W. J. Younger, C. L. 
Goddard, E. L. Townsend, California ; Geo. H Chance, Oregon ; 
W. E. Burkhart, Washington. 

All of which is respectfully submitted. 

In pursuance of the foregoing the fiftieth anni- 
versary of the discovery of the anesthetic properties 
of nitrous oxid by Dr. Horace Wells, of Hartford, 
Conn., was observed in Philadelphia, December n, 
1894, by a public meeting in the afternoon in Asso- 
ciation Hall and a dinner at the Union League in 
the evening. The Association Hall meeting was 
attended by the students of the Pennsylvania and 
Philadelphia Dental Colleges, the Dental Depart- 
ment of the University of Pennsylvania, and of the 
Medico-Chirurgical College, besides many well- 
known members of the profession in this and other 



cities. At this meeting Dr. R. Huey offered a reso- 
lution, which was adopted, calling for the appoint- 
ment of a committee to take action toward placing 
a memorial to Wells in Washington, D. C. The 
president appointed Drs. Jas. Truman, W. F. Litch, 
E. C. Kirk, S. H. Guilford, with J. D. Thomas, 
chairman and treasurer. 

Immediately after the celebration exercises the 
chairman sent out circulars soliciting subscriptions 
to the fund, which were handsomely responded to by 
contributions of individual sums from fifty cents to 
twenty-five dollars, and by societies sums from five 
to two hundred and fifty dollars, from every state in 
the Union, making a grand total of eleven hundred 
and five (1105) dollars, which has enabled the 
committee to place in the Library of the Army and 
Navy Medical Museum, in Washington, a beautiful 
bronze bust, executed by Hartley, of New York, in- 
scribed "Horace Wells, the Discoverer of Anes- 
thesia. Presented by the Dentists of America," 
which has won the approbation of all who have 
viewed it. 

The honor which attaches to the discovery of 
this great boon to mankind has not been uncon- 
tested, various claimants have disputed the right 
of Horace Wells, a dentist, to the high place in 
human regard to which his unselfish investigation 
and beneficent discovery entitles him. The testi- 
mony brought forward in connection with the anni- 
versary meeting held in Philadelphia goes far 
toward removing any lingering doubt upon the sub- 



ject and places the history of Dr. Wells upon a foun- 
dation before the world which assures to him his 
rightful place in history. 

Encouraged by the widespread interest which 
the meeting aroused, and believing that a perma- 
nent record of the events which made the meeting 
a memorable occasion in the history of the dental 
profession will be an acceptable souvenir to all dental 
practitioners who have a pride in the achievements 
of their profession, the committee has prepared this 
record, which it submits in the hope that it will 
serve not only as a memento of a work that has shed 
luster upon the name of American dentistry, but 
also as a stimulus to higher professional endeavor. 

Report of the Proceedings at Association 
Hall. Tuesday, December 11, 1894. 

Dr. Thomas called the meeting to order and 
called attention to the banquet to be held at the 
Union League in the evening, and stated that after 
adjournment an opportunity would be given to all 
who so desired to give their names in as wishing to 

Dr. Thomas then said: As chairman of the 
Executive Committee, it now gives me pleasure to 
introduce to you Dr. J. Y. Crawford, of Nashville, 
Tennessee, President of the American Dental Asso- 
ciation, who will address you. 

Dr. Crawford then said: Mr. Chairman, mem- 
bers of the dental profession of the city of Philadel- 
phia and other cities, at the meeting of the Ameri- 
can Dental Society, held in Virginia, the second 
Tuesday of last August, at Old Point Comfort, by a 
resolution offered by J. D. Thomas, D.D.S., of this 
city, there was a committee appointed by the Ameri- 
can Dental Society to take under their management 
and control the organization of the present celebra- 
tion that we now propose opening in honor of the 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

discovery of the anesthetic properties of nitrous oxid 
gas by Horace Wells on the nth day of December, 

In pursuance of that resolution, by the direction 
of your National organization, as its humble repre- 
sentative, I am here to-day before you to inaugurate 
the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the 
Horace Wells memorial. 

We have provided a program which I am sure 
will be of interest to you all, and I will not further 
detain you by a discussion of the question at issue. 
It is enough for the dental profession to know that 
fifty years ago to-day the human family was emanci- 
pated and freed from pain by the invention of an- 
esthesia in a surgical way. I will be excused for 
saying that I am one of those who believe that by 
virtue of the peculiar circumstances and the moral 
forces that led to the wonderful development of 
Horace Wells, of Hartford, Connecticut, on the 
nth day of December, 1844, that it was for first 
legitimate adaptation of anesthesia in a surgical way, 
under proper restrictions, and to him is due at least 
the amount of credit that would at once entitle him 
to that recognition at the hands of a just and liberal 
public equal to that which has been accorded to such 
characters as Jenner and Harvey for their discov- 

Your Executive Committee informs me that, in 
addition to the provision for the entertainment this 
afternoon, to-night there will be a magnificent ban- 
quet for the further celebration of this important 

Discovery of Anesthesia. 

event in dental surgery and in commemoration of 
this humane, this eminently humane, contribution to 
the healing art. 

Now, without further detaining you, gentlemen, 
I have the pleasure of calling your attention to the 
program which will be carried out for us. First, by 
the reading of a paper by Professor Fillebrown, 
of Boston, on the subject of 


To-day we'll 
"Poise the cause of Justice in equal scales, 

Whose beam stands sure, whose rightful cause prevails." 

"If circumstances lead me, I will find 

Where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed 

Within the center." 


Fifty years ago to-day there was enacted in the 
city of Hartford, Conn., the first scene in the devel- 
opment of the grandest and most beneficent discov- 
ery the world has ever beheld, the Discovery of 
Modern Anesthesia; and this during a period which 
has exceeded all others in the magnitude and im- 
portance of the discoveries made in science, me- 
chanics, and medicine. 

We wish to pay our tribute to the memory of 
the discoverer of this great fact. To this end let us 
examine the testimony, restate the facts, and again 
judge their relative value. 

"We can do nothing against the truth." His- 
tory makes itself; to record it impartially is a difficult 

The Fiftieth Anniversary 

Great discoveries and great events do not burst 
forth with Promethean suddenness or completeness, 
but are the result of long periods of incubation and 
growth, and oftentimes await many long years of ex- 
pectancy, hope, and even despair. Such was the 
case with the great fact of practical anesthesia. 
The ancient nations waited for it, hunted for it, but 
died without the sight. Modern nations continued 
the longing search, but they caught only a glimpse 
of the coming day to reward them, until the middle 
of the present century, when Horace Wells discov- 
ered, demonstrated, and proclaimed the great bless- 
ing, "which stopped pain, robbed the knife of its ter- 
rors," and made glad the heart of every sympathizer 
with suffering. 

Insensibility to surgical operations was occasion- 
ally induced many centuries ago. Homer mentions 
the anesthetic effect of nepenthe, and refers to the 
inhalation of a vapor of hemp. Dioscorides and 
Pliny record the use of mandragora. Apuleius, A.D. 
125, said: "If a man has to have a limb mutilated, 
sawn, or burnt, he may take an ounce of mandragora 
wine, and whilst he sleeps the member may be cut off 
without pain or sense." In the third century 
Hoatho, a Chinese, gave his patients a preparation 
of hemp which rendered them insensible to pain. 
Theodoric in the thirteenth century gave directions 
for preparing the spongia somnifera for inhalation 
before operations. 

Ether was known as early as the thirteenth cen- 
tury, and described by Cordus in the sixteenth cen- 

Discovery of Anesthesia. 

tury, and the name ether was given it by Frobenius 
in 1730. In 1828 Geradin read a paper before the 
Academy of Medicine of Paris describing surgical 
anesthesia produced by inhaling gases. 

In 1800 Sir Humphry Davy made his remarkable 
statement that "As nitrous oxid gas appears capable 
of destroying physical pain, it may probably be used 
to advantage during surgical operations in which 
no great effusion of blood takes place." The pity 
is that this suggestion should have lain buried under 
the forgetfulness of forty-five years and borne no 

None of the agents used by the ancients proved 
practical or safe; consequently at the beginning of 
the present century practical anesthesia remained 

Two agents are inseparably connected with the 
discovery of modern anesthesia, protoxid of nitrogen 
and sulfuric ether. Protoxid of nitrogen was dis- 
covered by Priestley, described by Davy, and prac- 
tically applied by Horace Wells in 1844. 

Sulfuric ether was discovered in the thirteenth 
century, described in the sixteenth, named in the 
eighteenth, and practically applied to produce surgi- 
cal anesthesia in the nineteenth century, when, in 
1846, its use was made known to the world by Mor- 
ton at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Since 
1847 chloroform has been successfully used as an an- 
esthetic, but it played no part in the discovery of an- 
esthesia. Chloroform was discovered in 1831. Sir 
J. Y. Simpson discovered its anesthetic power, 
November 4, 1847. 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

Ever since 1818 the physiological action of gas 
and ether has been well understood. In 1840 it was 
well known that both would produce intoxication, 
and that both would lessen the severity of pain, hav- 
ing been repeatedly inhaled for amusement and for 
relief of suffering. So it was but a step from this to 
the attainment of surgical success; but a step no one 
had dare take and maintain until Wells ventured and 
bridged the chasm, and the fierce extremity of suf- 
fering was steeped in waters of forgetfulness, and the 
deepest furrow in the knotted brow of agony was 
smoothed forever. The history of this step is sim- 
ple but dramatic. It is known that Wells possessed 
the current knowledge concerning the properties 
and physiological effects of both gas and ether, 
though probably ignorant of Davy's suggestion. 
For four years he had believed it possible, by the in- 
halation of certain gases, especially laughing gas, to 
produce a degree of intoxication that would obtund 
the pain of surgical operations. 

At this time G. Q. Colton was delivering 
throughout the country popular lectures on chemis- 
try, administering at each lecture the laughing gas 
for the amusement of the audience. December 10, 
1844, he lectured in Hartford, Conn. In the audi- 
ence was Horace Wells, with his mind still occupied 
with the possibilities of the gas. He inhaled the gas 
himself; he watched its effects on others. He said 
to a Mr. Clark: "I believe a man may, by taking that 
gas, have a tooth extracted or a limb amputated, 
and not feel any pain." Among those present was 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

Mr. S. A. Cooley, a druggist. Mr. Cooley inhaled 
the gas, and while under its influence ran against 
and overthrew some benches in the hall, thereby pro- 
ducing several severe abrasions upon his knees. 
When he recovered consciousness he found the skin 
on his limbs badly bruised and broken, and yet he 
had not suffered at all, and did not know of the in- 
jury he had inflicted upon himself until the specta- 
tors had called his attention to it. Dr. Wells ob- 
served this effect of the gas, and at once determined 
to try it on his own person. A troublesome wis- 
dom-tooth offered the necessary object for the ex- 
periment. A number of those present, including 
Colton, Wells, and Cooley, met on the morning of 
the nth of December at Dr. Wells's office. What 
occurred there is thus described by Dr. Riggs, whose 
office adjoined Dr. Wells's, and who was called in to 
extract the tooth: 

"Dr. Wells a few minutes after I went in, and 
after conversation, took a seat in the operating chair. 
I examined the tooth to be extracted with a glass, 
as I generally do. Wells took the bag of gas from 
Mr. Colton and sat with it in his lap, and I stood 
by his side; Wells then breathed the gas until he was 
affected by it; his head dropped back. I put my 
hand to his chin, he opened his mouth, and I ex- 
tracted the tooth; his mouth remained open some 
time. I held the tooth in the instrument that the 
others might see it, they standing partially back of 
the screen and looking on. 

"Dr. Wells soon recovered from the influence of 

The Fiftieth Anniversary 

the gas so as to know what he was about, discharged 
the blood from his mouth, swung his hand, and said: 
'A new era in tooth-pulling; it did not hurt me at all.' 

"We were all much elated, and conversed about 
it for an hour after. We were so elated by the suc- 
cess of this experiment that we immediately turned 
our attention to the extraction of teeth by means of 
this agent, and continued to devote ourselves to this 
subject for several weeks, almost exclusively. Dr. 
Wells continued to use the gas freely in the practice 
of dentistry during the remainder of that year and 
the year following, and at all times when he was in 
the practice of his profession." 

Then was the deduction and suggestion made by 
Humphry Davy in 1800 verified by Horace Wells; 
the prophecy fulfilled; and practical anesthesia be- 
came a discovered and demonstrated reality. 

This event was the source of the world's knowl- 
edge of anesthesia; all previous efforts had come to 
naught; but the echoes of Wells's success were soon 
heard around the world. 

In the beginning of the present century science 
could not interpret the signs, and Davy's conception 
and prophecy of the possibilities of nitrous oxid fell 
upon deaf ears, and all the knowledge concerning the 
power of ether to produce insensibility to pain ap- 
pealed to sterile minds. And even in 1844 the pro- 
fessional ear was not quite attuned to the sound, and 
could not recognize in the extraction of Dr. Wells's 
tooth, on the nth of December, 1844, the key to the 
solution of the whole problem of anesthesia. Even 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

those most interested, most acute, and most observ- 
ant, could not in Wells's nearly successful operation 
before the class of the Harvard Medical school in 
January, 1845, apprehend the great fact that surgical 
anesthesia was a possibility. Nor indeed could they 
perceive it until it was forced upon their attention 
by the courage of a Morton. 

If, when Wells extracted the student's tooth, the 
surgeons of the Massachusetts General Hospital had 
possessed a little more of that keen perceptive power 
"of feeling, than of seeing; of the heart than of the 
ear," they would have apprehended the possibilities, 
and the discovery of surgical anesthesia would then 
have been acknowledged, the processes perfected, 
and no disputing claims would have arisen. 

When we realize how hard it is to compel atten- 
tion to a new idea, how slow is the accumulation of 
new facts, how gradual the growth of perception, 
and how great the magnitude of this subject, we 
cease to wonder at the slowness with which the sig- 
nificance of this event was appreciated. 

In future years whenever and wherever the dis- 
covery of anesthesia is intelligently discussed with 
knowledge of the subject, the name of Horace Wells 
will be spoken with honor and gratitude, and with 
his name will be associated the names of John M. 
Riggs, G. Q. Colton, E. E. Marcy, W. T. G. Morton, 
James Y. Simpson, Charles "F. Jackson, Oliver Wen- 
dell Holmes, and Henry J. Bigelow. 

Of these, Dr. Marcy and G. Q. Colton still sur- 
vive to bear witness to their part in the drama and 
enjoy their honors. 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

G. Q. Colton administered the nitrous oxid gas 
to Dr. Wells for the first operation under anesthesia, 
and reintroduced its use in 1863. 

Dr. Riggs performed the first operation, extract- 
ing Wells's molar tooth. 

Dr. Marcy suggested to Dr. Wells the use of 
ether instead of gas, and verified its action. 

Dr. Morton made the first public application of 
ether for surgical anesthesia. 

Dr. Jackson claimed to have suggested all that 
Morton knew about the effects of ether, and the use 
of it for anesthetic purposes. 

Dr. Simpson made himself and British surgery- 
famous by the discovery of the anesthetic power of 

Dr. Holmes suggested for this condition of in- 
sensibility the name, the use of which has become 
universal. He wrote to Dr. Morton as follows: 

"Everybody wants to have a hand in a great in- 
vention. All I will do is to give you a hint or two as 
to names, or the name, to be applied to the state 
produced and to the agent. 

"The state should, I think, be called anesthesia. 
This signifies insensibility, more particularly (as used 
by Linnseus and Cullen) to objects of touch. The 
adjective will be anesthetic. Thus we might say, 
the 'state of anesthesia,' or the 'anesthetic state.' 
The means employed would be properly called the 
'anti-esthetic agent.' Perhaps it might be allowable 
to say 'anesthetic agent'; but this admits of ques- 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

"The words anti-neuric, aneuric, neuro-leptic, 
seem too anatomical; whereas the change is a physio- 
logical one. I throw these out for consideration. 

"I would have a name pretty soon, and consult 
some accomplished scholar, such as President Ever- 
ett, or Dr. Bigelow, Sr., before fixing upon the 
terms which will be repeated by the tongues of every 
civilized race of mankind. You could mention these 
words which I suggest for their consideration; but 
there may be others more appropriate and agreeable. 

. "Yours respectfully, 

"O. W. Holmes." 

Dr. Crawford W. Long, of Georgia, used ether 
for anesthetic purposes three times during 1842-43, 
and now appears as a claimant to the discovery. 
But Dr. Long's connection with the subject was not 
mentioned until many years after the fact. He did 
not write a word in regard to his discovery, nor did 
any notice of it appear in print until 1849, fi ye years 
after Wells's discovery, and seven years after he him- 
self had administered the ether. How could any one, 
after knowing of such a boon to suffering humanity, 
resist for even a day the impulse to "fly on joyful 
wings, cleaving the sky," to proclaim the coming 
of this great consolation to the afflicted? 

Dr. R. M. Hodges wrote of this claim: "Not a 
physician or surgeon ever used ether because Long 
had used it; nor did mankind learn from him that 
anesthetic inhalation for surgical purposes was pos- 
sible. His claim was made after the fact, and rest- 
ing on no better foundation than those claims simi- 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

larly made by other aspirants for distinction; a class 
so numerous as to have been named by the London 
Lancet, 'The class of jump-up-behinders.' " 

Dr. H. J. Bigelow's connection with the ether 
discovery was important, perhaps vital to the suc- 
cess of anesthesia at that time, as in more than one 
instance he prevented fatal results from overanes- 
thesia. Although but twenty-eight years of age, 
and junior surgeon at the hospital, less than one year 
in office, he was the one whose penetration, execu- 
tive ability, sagacious and active qualities of mind 
and body, made him realize that the event of a life- 
time was taking place. He made a clinical study of 
the subject; he made most unremitting exertion to 
prove the safety of ether; he practically supervised 
etherization during the first year of its use. He an- 
nounced to the world the discovery of this use of 
ether in a paper read at the American Academy of 
Medicine, November 3, 1846. He verified the an- 
esthetic power of nitrous oxid in 1848. These facts 
have identified Dr. Bigelow with the whole subject 
of anesthesia. Had he been present on the occa- 
sion of Wells's first experiment, it is not unlikely the 
course of events would have been materially differ- 

Dr. Edward Warren wrote: "To him next to the 
discoverer himself are the public and the world in- 
debted for the blessings of so early receiving this 
great discovery." 

The many volumes printed during the exciting 
years from 1846-63 furnish a great number of 

Discovery of Anesthesia. 

statements, opinions, and facts pertaining to this 
discovery, most of which have ceased to be of any 

Napoleon is said to have often left his letters lie 
unopened for several days, giving as a reason that in 
that time events would answer a greater part of 
them. So we find that the larger part of the state- 
ments, opinions, and arguments in regard to this 
subject have been answered by subsequent events. 

Let us contrast a few of the statements made at 
that time with the facts as now known. 

Then some denied that nitrous oxid was an an- 
esthetic; to-day it is known as one of the most effi- 

In 1844 Wells claimed that the gas was safer 
than ether; others denied its safety; to-day it stands 
proven the safest and most pleasant anesthetic agent 
known to the world. 

It was then claimed to be impracticable to use it ; 
now its successful administration annually to more 
patients than all other agents combined proves its 

It was then claimed to be ineffectual for pro- 
longed operations; to-day it is proven equal to con- 
tinuing the anesthetic state indefinitely. 

Then it was contended by skillful surgeons and 
eminent divines "that pain was a natural protection, 
a necessary stimulant to the reparative process, and 
a Providential dispensation, and that the prevention 
of it was defying the Almighty"; now it amounts to 
inhumanity and malpractice to presume to do any 
severe operation without it. 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

Prof. Charles D. Meigs, of the Jefferson Medical 
College of Philadelphia, as late as 1856, wrote of the" 
"doubtful nature of any processes that the physician 
sets up to contravene the operation of those natural 
and physiological forces that the Divinity has or- 
dained us to enjoy or suffer." 

And a clergyman wrote to a medical friend as fol- 
lows: "Anesthesia is a decoy of Satan apparently of- 
fering itself to bless women; but in the end it will 
harden society, and rob God of the deep, earnest 
cries which arise in time of trouble for help." 

The following facts seem to be established by in- 
disputable sworn testimony, and I believe are ad- 
mitted by all the friends of truth: 

In 1840 Dr. Wells expressed his faith in the an- 
esthetic power of nitrous oxid. 

December 11, 1844, Wells inhaled nitrous oxid 
and had a tooth extracted painlessly, which event 
immediately became known throughout the city of 
Hartford and vicinity. 

Forthwith Wells made a pilgrimage to Boston to 
proclaim and demonstrate his discovery; he called on 
Morton and made known to him this event. 
Through Morton's intercession an invitation was 
given Dr. Wells by Dr. J. C. Warren to speak to the 
class of the Harvard Medical School, and describe 
his discovery. A little later he gave the nitrous 
oxid to a patient and extracted a tooth for him be- 
fore the same class with incomplete success. The 
patient cried out as with pain, but when again con- 
scious declared he had not been hurt. 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

A month later Dr. Marcy suggested to Wells the 
use of sulfuric ether for this same purpose, and veri- 
fied its effects by anesthetizing a patient with this 
agent, and removing a good-sized tumor from his 
head without causing pain. They both discarded 
ether, as its odor was unpleasant, and because they 
considered it less safe than laughing gas. 

Early in 1845 Dr. Wells administered sulfuric 
ether to a patient (Gaylord Wells) and extracted a 
tooth painlessly. 

In 1 841 Dr. Morton was a pupil of Dr. Wells. In 
1842 they were in business together for a time in 

In July, 1845, Morton called on Wells in Hart- 
ford and talked with him and Dr. Riggs about the 
gas, and asked them for a supply. 

Dr. Wells referred him to Dr. Jackson for in- 
formation as to the manufacture of it. 

Drs. Wells, Riggs, and others continued the use 
of gas until November 6, 1846, when chloroform and 
ether were substituted, and gas remained unused 
until 1863. 

The use of nitrous oxid for anesthetic purposes 
was recorded in the Boston Medical and Surgical Jour- 
nal of June 18, 1845, as follows: "The nitrous oxid 
gas has been used in quite a number of cases by our 
(Hartford) dentists during the extraction of teeth, 
and has been proven by its excitement perfectly to 
destroy pain." 

Dr. Wm. T. G. Morton performed his first suc- 
cessful operation with ether September 30, 1846; 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

and on October 16, following, he administered ether 
to a patient at the Massachusetts General Hospital, 
and on the 17th to a second case. 

About October 20, 1846, Dr. Jackson claimed 
compensation from Morton for professional advice, 
and charged five hundred dollars. 

October 27, 1846, Drs. Morton and Jackson 
made oath to a joint discovery of a compound for the 
prevention of pain during surgical operations; and 
applied for a patent. The patent was granted, and 
in 1863 was declared void, as such a discovery was 
not patentable. 

November 9, 1846, Dr. Morton declared it was 
simply sulfuric ether, not a compound as claimed in 
his application for a patent. 

In the autumn of 1847 Drs. Jackson and Morton 
each claimed to be the sole independent discoverer 
of anesthesia, and in nowise indebted to the other, 
and so contended to the end. 

In 1847 the Paris Academy of Medicine, upon ex 
parte evidence, declared Morton and Jackson the 
discoverers of anesthesia. 

In January, 1848, the Parisian Medical Society, 
after a full hearing of evidence from both parties, 
voted that "To Horace Wells, of Hartford, Conn., 
U. S. A., is due all the honor of having discovered 
and sucessfully applied the uses of vapors or gases 
whereby surgical operations could be performed 
without pain," and elected him an honorary mem- 
ber of the society. 

In 1846 the surgeons of the Massachusetts Gen- 

Discovery of Anesthesia. 

eral Hospital gave Morton the credit of being the 
discoverer of modern anesthesia. In 1853, five years 
after Wells's death, Dr. C. H. Haywood, one of the 
surgeons present at the first operation, gave the fol- 
lowing unqualified credit to Wells for his share in it. 
He closes a letter to Hon. Truman Smith with these 

"It was no Minerva born full armored. More- 
over, in analyzing the nature of the discovery, we 
can detect several elements which were successfully 
brought to light. Thus we observe in the first 
period an indefinite search after some method of pro- 
ducing insensibility to pain. Then came a second 
period where great advance was made, beyond all 
dispute, due to Horace Wells. 

"This was the first important step in the history 
of anesthesia. 

"The question of priority may be easily settled. 
It is satisfactorily proved that Dr. Wells's experi- 
ments had established the above-mentioned points 
as early as 1844, though they had not determined 
either the best agent, or perfected the method of ad- 
ministration in detail. 

"In the third period the anesthetic properties of 
certain substances were discovered. First nitrous 
oxid was tried; then sulfuric ether; then chloroform; 
then chloric ether. These discoveries were all made 
by different individuals. 

"Now for which of these agents and to which dis- 
coverer shall remuneration be granted? To each 
and for all I say: to Morton for sulfuric ether, to Dr. 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

Simpson for chloroform, to Dr. J. C. Warren for 
chloric ether; but before all, let full and ample justice 
be done to that noble genius which first conceived 
the grand idea which has been the basis of all the 
experiments, and father of all the discoveries. To 
the spirit of Horace Wells belongs the honor of hav- 
ing given to suffering humanity the greatest boon it 
ever received from science." 

"Thus do facts maintain the majesty of truth." 
Argument would only weaken the evident conclu- 

Considering that Wells was timid, retiring, and 
only twenty-seven years old when he announced his 
discovery, who can wonder that he should return 
from Boston disheartened; and later, when still suf- 
fering from disappointment and the ill effects of his 
own sacrificing experiments, meet a sad and tragic 

It is remarkable, too, that his rival claimants 
should both meet an almost equally tragic fate: Mor- 
ton dying of apoplexy while out riding, and Jackson 
spending the last seven years of his life in an asylum 
for the insane. 

Thus did "the shears of Fate cut the tent-ropes 
of their lives." 

Upon the memory of Horace Wells there re- 
mains no blot or stain; against him no charge of 
selfishness, dishonesty, deceit, or unfairness was ever 
made; he lived and died honored and respected by 
the people among whom he dwelt. We best quote 
the words of one who knew him intimately: 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

"He had a mind of uncommon restlessness, ac- 
tivity, and intelligence. He early manifested great 
inventive genius and mechanical talent. He was of 
medium height, with a head of remarkable size, com- 
plexion light, compactly built, of pleasing counte- 
nance and address, and of fine personal appearance. 
As a citizen he was a man of great purity of character 
and of generous impulses, honoring religion by his 
walk and conversation; as a son he was kind and 
dutiful, and in his family relations an example of 
kindness and affection. In all these respects he was 
without spot." 

Such a character as this sought only the legiti- 
mate emoluments of his calling, and was always 
ready to benefit his profession and mankind. No 
sacrifice was too great for him to make. Very ap- 
preciative of words of encouragement, he was also 
very sensitive to criticism; hence it is not strange 
that such a spirit, so young, should quail before the 
derision of professors and jeers of students. Honest 
himself, he could not think others dishonest; just, 
he could not brook injustice. Being denied what 
he knew were his just claims, his soul was cut to the 
quick, and a dark veil was drawn over what promised 
a brilliant and useful life. 

We lay our wreath upon his tomb; would that we 
to-day might with it crown his head. Coming gen- 
erations will recognize in him the martyr and the 
world's benefactor, and on every monument which in 
the future may be raised to commemorate this great 
event will be inscribed: "Horace Wells — the Discov- 
erer of Modern Anesthesia." 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

After the reading of the paper by Professor Fille- 
brown, the chairman said, continuing: I am sure, 
gentlemen, that you will agree with me that if we 
had no further contribution to-day on this occasion, 
that the contribution that we have listened to would 
have justified us in our presence this afternoon. 
But whether the next gentleman will take you to the 
sick chamber, or whether he will take you to the 
surgical table, or the operating chair, or I know not 
what, but I know from his great reputation and his 
learning that he will do justice to the occasion in the 
course he may pursue in further demonstrating the 
great benefits of anesthesia to mankind. I have now 
the honor of introducing to you Prof. James. E. 

Before proceeding with his paper, Professor Gar- 
retson, in noticing a gentleman in the audience, said 
that he saw one present whose shoe latchets he was 
not worthy to unloose, — Dr. G. Q. Colton, — whom 
he requested to come to the platform. 

Dr. Colton upon this invitation ascended the 
platform and took his seat with those occupying 
that position. 

Professor Garretson stated that he understood 
the son of Horace Wells was in the room, and asked 
him to come to the platform. To this there was no 

Professor Garretson then exhibited his paper in 
full, saying he would not read it all, as it would be 
printed; that he would read an abstract which he had 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

I come to assure this great audience that I stand 
in its presence overwhelmed by the contrast that 
separates subject and speaker; and that I find words 
in deference only to the circumstances of the oc- 
casion which brings us together. 

It is no profane comparison to suggest that 
naught but a sense of profanation could associate 
with a priest who should add words to the lifting of 
the Host. Does not a priest, in performance of this 
act, set a seal upon his lips? Does he not wrap in 
vestment that has been blessed the hands which are 
to touch the sacred symbol? 

The profundity of the meaning, not to say the 
holiness, of what seems to me among the greatest 
of God's gifts to men, anesthesia, affects me in its 
contemplation, as I assume the priest to be affected 
as he approaches the Host. The full feeling is, "Be 

Silence! and its golden meaning! 

Surely, — forcing ourselves to talk and listen, — 
the gold of anesthesia is silence; silence in place of 
agonizing, heartrending screams. Silence in place 
of cries from the pitying but helpless bystanders. 
Silence in presence of torture shorn of its terror. 

On an occasion, now many years back, I was 
wandering through the lanes and alleys of Sleepy 
Hollow Cemetery in the town of Concord, Massa- 
chusetts, when, being led up a hill, I stepped over a 
low, much-abused hedge of arbor vitse, discovering 
a plain low-set stone having upon its face a single 
word. When at the foot of the hill, I had found my- 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

self surrounded by what would not inaptly bear de- 
scription as splendid marbles. Upon these were 
deeply cut many names and the records of many 
virtues. Neither names nor virtues had, however, 
significance to me. No chord was struck, no re- 
sponse elicited. The word upon the low-set stone of 
the hilltop was Hawthorne. The ring of a bell is its 
metal. The name of a man is his work. Men who 
have done something: either as cause or instrument! 
What reverberations ring out as such names are en- 
countered! Somewhere, everywhere, is a sound. 
The lives of great men; the memories of the lives of 
great men, — left to remind us. 

Horace Wells! The name does not, nor will not, 
still. It rings, and rings, and rings, in distinctness, 
albeit accordant and discordant sounds are every- 
where about it. 

The task of reviewing the history of anesthesia 
was given to the worthy colleague who has preceded 
me. I am glad of it. Standing, as I feel myself to- 
day, overshadowed by flames and memories; mem- 
ories of blighted lives, — of mental wreckage, — of dis- 
couragements ending in suicides; what but admira- 
tion of the sacrifices made; what but desire to do 
homage; what else than these should or could fill a 
human heart on such an occasion. Here Caesar can 
be praised, and Rome too. 

A new good is an old gift, — not new in ages past, 
only because channel was lacking. Electricity before 
chaos. An Edison the production of a nineteenth 
century. Euphrates, Tigris; both water Mesopo- 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

tamia; both, alike, are the Persian Gulf. Not Ar- 
menia is the source; a common under-spring is the 
well constituting the divine afflatus. 

My perceptions view Horace Wells as Euphrates 
and Tigris are viewed; he, and these, and all phe- 
nomena, not as things in themselves, but as things in 
other things. 

Whether or not this man was a meditative phi- 
losopher to be found oftenest in haunts apart from 
men, or whether or not he was simply a vessel capa- 
ble of holding, but never trying to fill itself, I am 
alike without knowledge as without desire to know. 
He was filled, however. The river of Lethe found 
in him a channel. Everywhere over the land flows 
the stream Nepenthe. He is Nepenthe. 

To change a metaphor: Is invention aught but 
filling a Form? Is this not a matter made plain by 
Plato two thousand years back? Are not forms 
eternal? Forms of things seen yesterday, to-day, 
and to be seen forever. Forms not yet seen. Is 
invention else than seeing a form and bringing it 
down from the sky to the uses of men? Material- 
izing it, properly speaking. How, as I grow old, 
do I grow impressed with this: The maker of forms, 
the all, the filler of forms, simple instrument. 

It is not even slight departure from the imme- 
diate subject of the occasion to make further refer- 
ence to this matter of forms, for it is not otherwise, 
according to my conception, that Horace Wells is 
to be either understood, appreciated, or called the 
discoverer of anesthesia. 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

Was it truthfully Priestley to whom nitrous oxid 
owes its discovery? It assuredly was not to Horace 
Wells. Was, or was not, anything known of this gas 
before the days of our own Declaration of Independ- 
ence? Or is it rather to be put thus: nitrous oxid 
is phenomenon deductively exposing itself to the 
chemist out of the droppings of camels upon desert 
sands; Ammon and Ammonia go back to Lybia. 

No one has been, or is, greater than Plato. 
What the dungburners did, or what Priestley has 
done, is not credited by him as science, but simply 
as dealings had with phenomena. Science, he says, 
fritters itself where its aim is otherwise than with 
the getting of knowledge of Noumenon. 

Things unlike are not necessarily dissimilar. 
The things that lie within things are multitudinous. 
Who knows, even yet, what nitrous oxid is? Who 
knows even what water is? In a word, who knows 
what, or how much, anything is? Nobody. 

But the scientist is the evolutionist. Possessing 
himself of means he analyzes. Analysis is one, or 
closely one, with deduction. Science has no 
thought, or word, or action, outside of matter. 

But forms, the true objects of science, as af- 
firmed by Plato, constitute the invisible. The music 
of a musician is not his notes, the poet's inspirations 
are not grammar. Reality, or at least nearer ap- 
proach to reality, is back of these. Notes are to be 
seen by anybody having eyes, and words are to be 
heard by anybody having ears. But what as to 
forms, or ghosts, as these are back of notes and 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

words? What as to the seers of these? No forms 
being back of notes and words, there can be no notes 
and words in front of forms. 

Was not the ghost of anesthesia with the camel- 
droppings? Was it not with the dudain, the devil's 
apple, of the Arab? Has it not been with alcohol 
since men distilled and knew this agent? Is it not 
with the poppy through all the ages that fields have 
been made red by this plant ? 

In 1 540 the oleum vitreoli duke was first given to 
the uses of men by Valerius Cordus. He had not 
the name, either, for it, but his oil was, at its least, 
the basis of the ether of Frobensius, and the ether 
of to-day. Guthrie, Liebig, and Soubeiran simul- 
taneously discovered chloroform in 1831. Did 
Cordus, in 1540, see or tell anything about a ghost 
of anesthesia, as this lay in his sweet oil of vitriol? 
With chloroform filling the bottles of druggists, in 
1 83 1, was anybody to be found who had been in- 
troduced through its use to the wonderland of 

Let here the idea be repeated of nobody knowing 
what anything is. Cadmus, beyond all men of his 
times, saw letters. A Shakespeare, beyond all men 
of his times, saw use lying with letters. How many 
are the expressions lying with letters not yet seen 
by anybody? Forecast the unwritten poetry! 

Here is culmination; and here is the place of 
Horace Wells in history. Horace Wells saw in a 
room in Hartford what had never before been seen 
by mortal man. He saw anesthesia. It was ages 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

before he was born that ether was materialized, and 
it was before he was born that nitrous oxid was 
formulated, and it was when he was in no way think- 
ing about such things that chloroform was brought 
forth. The seer saw anesthesia. The sight lay, as 
I understand, with a hurt hand of which no com- 
plaint was made. Others, many others, saw the 
bloody hand. In a distant state, about the same 
time, I myself saw the hurt hand, but none, not one 
of the many others, saw anesthesia. I think it is 
not to be denied that some saw a filmy halo that 
meant anesthesia. There was a something, but 
what the something was the seers did not make out, 
and what was seen was seen only to be forgotten. 
Truly, Sir Humphry Davy is to be credited with a 
feeling of the elysium. Ego was differentiated for 
him by nitrous oxid from environment; but, while 
he felt, it was separability that was felt, not anes- 
thesia. His expression on coming from under the 
influence of nitrous oxid is familiar: "Nothing exists 
but thought." 

Anesthesia, the thing being truly understood, is 
barrier between Matter, which does not feel, and 
Ego, which is percipient. It is not Matter that sees, 
hears, touches, or tastes. Does the matter tem- 
porarily composing the cadaver of a dissecting room 
see, hear, touch, or taste? Percipience is away from 
it; there is neither seeing, hearing, touching, nor 
tasting by a cadaver. A flute separated from its 
player is wood, having no sing in it. 

I am not to credit Horace Wells with sight of 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

separability. The "Me, and the not Me," is not 
likely to have been seen even by his internal eye. 
His seership lay with a direction that people delight 
to call practical. Of many things, hundreds, thou- 
sands perhaps, lying with nitrous oxid, he saw one. 
But what a one! Here begins his glory. Here is 
to continue his glory. Here, so long as pain is es- 
teemed hurtful, and absence of it pleasurable, will 
the name of Horace Wells be upon the lips of men. 

Parallels recall obligations and glory due others. 
Apples have fallen since first apples began to grow 
and ripen. Kettles, in which water was being boiled 
for the evening repast, have opened their iron lips 
and tried for numberless centuries to say what they 
had to tell about locomotion. Over the earth and 
across the face of the heavens electricity has sought 
vainly, until latterly, for a seer. The sun, with his 
rays full of perfect pictures, brought as free gifts to 
man, could find no taker. 

In the year 1665 a seer, sitting under a tree at 
Woolsthorpe, found himself able to hear fairly well 
what a falling apple had to tell about the moon stay- 
ing where it belongs. Heron of Alexandria, hold- 
ing his egotistic ear to the spout of a kettle, heard a 
story of steam, and wrote it down in the shape of his 
seolipile, a so-called invention. Papin saw the cylin- 
der. Fulton saw the steamboat. Stephenson was, 
perhaps, the first witness of a train of cars drawn by 
a locomotive. Thales of Miletus got a story of 
electricity from a piece of amber. Daguerre, not, 
however, until the age of the world A.D. 1839, was 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

able to take what the sun had to give of pictures. 
Mozart, beginning with the use of common sense, 
and from this passing to the advantages lying with 
educated sense, dropped at the last both these and 
put down in form notes what alone the flowers 
whispered to him, — having found out that education 
is not alone the teller of things that are to be heard. 

Not unnecessarily to detain; was anesthesia, as 
anesthesia, known to surgery before 1844 as it be- 
came known in that year and since remains known? 
Not nitrous oxid, not ether, not chloroform, not 
rapid breathing, but anesthesia. 

Who was the man of that year? Horace Wells. 

This, it seems to me, settles the question. 

Let, however, all deserved honor and glory as- 
sociate with the names of workers and experiment- 
ers, as these have enlarged application of the in- 
spiration of the Hartford seer. Ether! Chloro- 
form! What would surgery do without them? 
How could the world do without them? How did 
the world do without them? 

Here is other culmination. It is not necessary, 
in this presence, to enlarge beyond a very few sen- 
tences on the benefits of anesthesia to humanity. 
Are not all here assembled doing, and experiencing, 
each after the manner of his work, what I did and 
experienced only yesterday. Upon the operating 
table of a hospital lay sleeping sweetly and quietly as 
ever baby slept a member of our fraternity. In 
place of an ordinary neck was a tumor that reached 
from chin to sternum, and from ear to ear. Wher- 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

ever, as it proved, reaching fingers could reach, pro- 
longations of this mass extended themselves. Sali- 
vary glands, trachea, carotid arteries, jugular veins, 
pneumogastric nerves, all were more or less em- 
braced and wrapped about. Yet, while so horrible 
a dissection as was required to remove the mass 
went on, sleeping and dreaming quietly continued, 
nor was any consciousness had by our brother of his 
terrible experience until an hour later he awakened 
snugly tucked away in one of the most comfortable 
beds, the tender hand of the nurse wiping away the 
cold sweat drops standing threateningly upon his 

Consider, in contrast, a picture familiar before 
the day of Wells's inspiration. A mother, her heart 
welling out in tears, limbs trembling so as scarcely 
to afford her support, helpless misery marking her 
countenance, despair striking at her with its thongs 
of flame, follows into a hospital operating amphi- 
theater a nurse who carries her firstborn, which is 
being brought to the table. Alas! helpless indeed is 
the mother. How more than gladly, how a thou- 
sand times more than gladly, would she lie down in 
place of the child. Cries of mother and child moan 
through the hospital, and the least sensitive feels 
his cheek pale. The crucial moment has come. 
The child is placed and held by force upon the table. 
The mother is torn away. For a single moment 
eyes of mother and child have met in parting. A 
loud, frightened, despairing cry from the child rings 
from ceiling to floor of the room. The mother 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

drops in a heap and is carried out a raving lunatic. 
She raves about and curses God as being without 
pity or mercy. 

Let a picture of to-day have relation with that 
other one of the past. One which extended, alas, 
from the days of the first surgical performance to 
the year of grace eighteen hundred and forty-four. 

A mother brings to a hospital a child whose de- 
formity requires the knife for its correction. Con- 
scious of the power of anesthesia, the surgeon talks 
to the parent, while all the while the little patient, 
pleased and inveigled by the sweet smell of chloro- 
form, is itself anesthetizing itself. The cutting is 
done. The child has a dream of roses and gardens 
and wide fields. The mother has placed in her arms 
her restored offspring. She has no tears, no words, 
her contact has been alone with beneficence. She is 
overwhelmed by the mystery met and passed. She 
says, "Our Father which art in heaven." She says 
and feels there is a God of pity and mercy. 

Look at the name of the maker of these pictures 
of the new time! It reads, — Horace Wells! 

To what extent anesthesia has cultivated sensi- 
bility, I leave every surgeon to judge. Who, if sud- 
denly transplanted into the olden times, being pos- 
sessed of his present knowledge of anesthesia, could 
handle a knife without cutting everywhere else than 
where it would be desirable to cut, otherwise dying 
shortly out of sympathy for his patients. Could he 
say: "Merciful Father which art in heaven" in place 
of thinking "Pitiless devil who is in hell"? Alas! 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

how near to hopeless atheism may ignorance bring 
a man. Hail! that knowledge shows God and 
Father everywhere. 

Hail to all poets, to the music hearers, to the 
seers of forms of every kind! Let statues be made 
for such in the squares! Let tablets of enduring 
brass mark their working places ! Let us place and 
hold them with the immortals! 

Hail to him who has proved to be, perhaps, the 
greatest of the seers, — Horace Wells! 

Dr. L. D. Shepard, of Boston: Mr. President, to 
crystallize the sentiment of this large gathering of 
professional men into a formal expression of opinion, 
the Executive Committee having this celebration in 
charge has passed a resolution and asked me to 
present it: 

"Resolved, That we re-affirm and emphasize our belief that 
the observation of Horace Wells was essentially a discovery 
original with him. We do not claim that his was the first dis- 
covery of the same fact, but accord priority in this to Sir Hum- 
phry Davy, and with respect to the honors due to each, we call 
attention to the historical fact that it was from the discovery by 
Horace Wells, of Hartford, United States of America, that the 
direct benefits to humanity were achieved." 

Moved and seconded that resolution be adopted. 
Motion prevailed. 

Dr. Huey: I have been asked by the Executive 
Committee to request that a committee be ap- 
pointed with instructions to erect a permanent 
memorial to Dr. Horace Wells in Washington, D. C. 

The President: Will the gentleman who made 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

the motion suggest the member he will have upon 
the committee? 

Dr. Huey: I think it had better be left to the 
chair. I believe it is the understanding that the 
chairman shall appoint a committee to take the 
matter in hand, the members of which shall be mem- 
bers in good standing of the American Dental Asso- 

Motion seconded and carried. 

The President: I will furnish Dr. J. D. Thomas 
the names of the committee to act under that mo- 


Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, I can truly say of 
myself as Antony did at the funeral of Caesar: 

"I am no orator, as Brutus is; 
But, as you know me all, a plain, blunt man, 

For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth, 
Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech, 
To stir men's blood: I only speak right on; 
I tell you that, which you yourselves do know." 

Now, I suppose in the course of five or eight min- 
utes I can give you an outline of the discovery of 
anesthesia. On the ioth of December, 1844, I 
gave an exhibition of the amusing effects of nitrous 
oxid gas in the city of Hartford, Conn. I saw my 
advertisement yesterday in the Hartford Current, 
about one-third of a column. There was a very 
large audience present. After I had given a short 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

lecture on the properties and effects of the gas, I 
invited a dozen or fifteen gentlemen to come forward 
who might like to inhale it for its amusing effects. 
Among the gentlemen who came forward was Dr. 
Wells and a young man by the name of Cooley. 
Both the gentlemen inhaled the gas, and when 
Cooley was under the influence of it he began to 
dance and jump around. Of course, you cannot see 
well under the influence of gas, and he ran against 
some wooden settees, benches, on the stage and 
bruised his legs quite badly. 

Well, as the effects of the gas passed off, he went 
and took his seat next to Dr. Wells. Dr. Wells said 
to him: "You must have hurt yourself?" "No," 
said Cooley, but at the same time he began to feel 
some pain in his legs, and pulling up his pantaloons 
was astonished to find his legs all bloody. He said: 
"Why, I didn't know I ran against the bench. I 
didn't feel a particle of pain until the effects of the 
gas passed off." 

Well, after the exhibition, while the audience was 
going out, Dr. Wells came to me and said: "Why 
can't a man have a tooth extracted when under the 
influence of the gas and not feel it?" I said I did 
not know. The thought had never entered my 
head. "Well," said he, "I believe it can be done." 
He said, "I am going to try it on myself. I have 
a decayed molar and I would like to have it out, 
and if you will bring a bag of gas to my office to- 
morrow I will try it on myself." So the next day I 
went to his office with a bag of gas, and he sent out 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

and got Dr. Riggs, a neighboring dentist, to come 
in. I administered the gas to Dr. Wells and Dr. 
Riggs extracted the tooth. On recovering and 
finding his tooth out, Dr. Wells slapped his hand 
upon his knee and exclaimed very excitedly: "It 
is the greatest discovery ever made. I didn't 
feel it as much as the prick of a pin." That 
was the first tooth ever drawn without pain and was 
the birth of anesthesia. This operation took place 
just fifty years ago yesterday. Dr. Wells wanted 
me to instruct him how to make the gas, which I 
did. He wanted me to furnish him the apparatus. 
"No," I said. I could not do that. I was engaged 
ahead and I had to go. I went away. In about 
three weeks from that time I saw a paragraph, three 
or four lines, that there was a Dr. Wells in Boston 
extracting teeth while the patients were under the 
influence of nitrous oxid gas, laughing gas. I then 
knew how it originated. Dr. Wells went to Boston 
to make the discovery known to the world. He 
called upon his former pupil in dentistry, Dr. Mor- 
ton, and told him what he had done. They all 
laughed at him. You have heard his statement 
about his appearance before the class at Cambridge 
College, which is a fact, and the young man who 
had a tooth extracted said he didn't feel the pain 
when the tooth was drawn, but the students hissed 
him and laughed at him and sneered at him, and 
hurt the feelings of Dr. Wells very much. They 
said it was a failure. He returned to Hartford dis- 
couraged, but resumed his practice and used the gas 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

constantly. Bishop Brownell and his two daugh- 
ters, and about thirty or forty of the most respecta- 
ble citizens of Hartford, gave their deposition after- 
ward that during the year of 1845 Dr. Wells ex- 
tracted two teeth for them, using the gas as an an- 
esthetic, without any pain and without any ill effects 
from the gas. 

At the end of 1845, if I am not mistaken, or the 
beginning of 1846, Dr. Wells's health failed and he 
went to Europe and presented his claim to the 
Academy of Sciences, and the Academy gave him 
the honor of an M.D., and he felt very proud of it. 
He then went traveling on the Continent. Not be- 
ing able to speak the language, of course he could 
not use the gas. 

Now, during his absence in Europe, Dr. Morton, 
his former pupil, went to Dr. Jackson, a chemist, to 
learn how to make this gas. He wanted to see 
what there was in Wells's pretended discovery. He 
broached the subject to Dr. Jackson, who said to 
him: "Don't use laughing gas; ether will destroy 
pain. Use ether if you want to use anything." He 
evidently had no faith in it. Upon leaving Dr. 
Jackson's office, Dr. Morton asked him what kind 
of stuff ether was, and Dr. Jackson's reply was: "It 
is a liquid, and you can buy it in any drug store." 
After that Dr. Morton tried it upon a patient, gave 
him the ether and took out a single tooth without 
any pain. That was on the 30th of December, 
1846, almost two years after Wells. It has been 
stated, and very correctly, that Morton and Jackson 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

applied for a patent. Well, the patent was delayed 
for some time, and Jackson probably thought the 
thing might turn out to be a humbug, and he did 
not like to have his name associated with Morton, 
so he takes an agreement from Morton that Morton 
should pay him ten per cent, of all he made out of 
the patent and then assigned his interest in it to 
Morton, and wrote to the Commissioner at Wash- 
ington requesting him to issue the patent to Mor- 
ton. The patent was issued to Morton, but instead 
of calling it ether he called it lethea, to mystify the 
public. Now, when Wells returned to this country 
he was astonished to find that Morton had got a 
patent and claimed the honor of the discovery of an- 
esthesia, and then a very exciting and violent dis- 
cussion commenced between them in a Boston medi- 
cal journal. That discussion so worked on the 
sensitive nature of Wells that he became deranged 
and committed suicide. There is no doubt but 
that he was deranged, because he had the reputa- 
tion in Hartford of being a very excellent Christian 
gentleman. Everybody loved him. That is the 
story of the discovery. By the way, Dr. Wells was 
the only man up to 1863 who ever used the gas that 
I am aware of. After the death of Wells, Dr. Mor- 
ton set up the claim that nitrous oxid was not an 
anesthetic at all, and that, therefore, he, Morton, 
was the discoverer of anesthesia. It was an admis- 
sion on his part, really, that in case nitrous oxid was 
an anesthetic Wells was the discoverer. When 
afterward it was proved, I was giving an ex- 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

hibition in New Haven, Conn., and I wanted to get 
some subjects to inhale the gas, and I invited thirty 
or forty gentlemen to a private entertainment. 
Among the others who were present was Dr. Smith. 
I gave them the history of the discovery of anes- 
thesia as I have given it to you, and said: "I can 
never get a dentist to try it." Dr. Smith was pres- 
ent, and at the close of the entertainment he said: 
"I will try it if you will give me the gas." "Why," 
I said: "I would be delighted, as I want to demon- 
strate what can be done with it." That was in 
June, 1863. I went to his office the next day, and 
while I was there an old lady, a very wealthy lady, 
came in. She had been trying to have the doctor 
give her chloroform, but he would not do it unless 
she would have her physician present to take the 
responsibility. Well, he introduced me, and I 
talked to the lady some little time, and finally she 
said: "I will try the gas." So, that afternoon I took 
a bag of the gas there and the lady was present. I 
administered a pretty strong dose to her, a pretty 
large dose, and Dr. Smith took out seven teeth 
for her, and when she recovered and found the 
teeth were out she said: "Don't go, Doctor, I want 
to give you my blessing." "Now," she said, "you 
may mention my name to your audience and state 
the fact that I have had seven teeth extracted with- 
out any pain and without ill effects from the gas." 
I made arrangements with Dr. Smith that I would 
furnish the gas and he should extract teeth for one 
week, and we should divide the profits equally. 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

Well, it went along, and at the end of the week the 
rooms were crowded with people who wanted to get 
their teeth out before I went away. We did not 
stop at the end of the week, but continued for three 
weeks and two days, and during that time we ex- 
tracted a little over three thousand teeth. I said to 
myself, this is a little better business than lecturing 
to empty benches sometimes, and I went to New 
York at the suggestion of P. T. Barnum. He said: 
"You establish an institution devoted exclusively 
to extracting teeth, and call it the Colton Dental 
Institute, because your name has been identified 
with the gas so long." I did so, and I commenced 
on the 15th of July, 1863. On the 4th of February 
following I had given it about nine months. I began 
to ask my patients to write their names. on a scroll of 
paper twenty-one inches wide. On the margin I 
left a space to number them, and I have numbered 
every patient from that time to this. I have on that 
scroll, or had at the time I left New York, 186,500 
names. Of all that vast number, I have not had a 
single accident from the gas. 

Some people express themselves as being much 
surprised when I tell them that I am eighty-one 
years of age, or shall be in two months from now. 
It reminds me of a scene in the play of "As You Like 
It." In that play a Duke has been exiled, and he 
leaves his property to his two sons. Frederick in- 
herits the property, because he is the oldest, and his 
father gives him directions to be kind to his brother 
Orlando; give him a good education and help him 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

along in the world. Well, instead of doing that, 
Frederick treats him very badly, and finally turns 
him out and sends him off without a dollar. Well, 
old Adam, who had been a servant in the family 
nearly all his life, takes pity on Orlando and goes 
with him, and Orlando says: "I have no money; 
what can I do? I cannot go on the road and com- 
mit a robbery." Well, then old Adam said — and 
this is what I wanted to say to you — 

"But do not so. I have five hundred crowns, 
The thrifty hire I saved under your father, 
Which I did store to be my foster-nurse 
When service should in my old limbs lie lame 
And unregarded age in corners thrown: 
Take that, and He that doth the ravens feed, 
Yea providently caters for the sparrow, 
Be comfort to my age ! Here is the gold ; 
All this I give you. Let me be your servant: 
Though I look old, yet I am strong and lusty; 
For in my youth I never did apply 
Hot and rebellious liquors in my blood, 
Nor did not with unbashful forehead woo 
The means of weakness and debility; 
Therefore my age is as a lusty winter, 
Frosty, but kindly." 

Dr. Hopkins: It has been suggested that there 
is no time like the present, and I move that the 
chairman appoint a treasurer and begin a subscrip- 
tion fund immediately. A gentleman near me sug- 
gested that he would be glad to subscribe fifty dol- 

Dr. J. D. Thomas, of Philadelphia, was nomi- 
nated and elected treasurer of the fund. 

Dr. Williams Donnally: I move that the com- 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

mittee be instructed to take into consideration, in 
connection with the purpose of its appointment, 
the feasibility of establishing a national museum 
and library which shall also be a memorial. 

Motion seconded and carried. 

Motion to adjourn seconded and carried. 

The banquet was held at the Union League, at 
which one hundred and forty gentlemen partici- 
pated, representing fourteen states. 


After the banquet was finished, Dr. Darby called 
the assemblage to order and introduced Hon. 
Joseph R. Hawley, United States Senator from 

Mr. Hawley was received with applause, and 
said : I am very much obliged to you for your greet- 
ing. I have a great affection for the city of Phila- 
delphia and its people, and I am glad to be here to- 

The Senator recited his having attended school 
with Horace Wells, in Hartford, and then pro- 

In regard to anesthesia and its discovery, how 
many lives have been prolonged by it, and how many 
thousands and thousands and thousands of years of 
human life have been added by reason of it? How 
many thousands upon thousands of hours of agony 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

have been swept away and thrown into bottomless 
oblivion by reason of the thought of that young 
dentist frfty years ago to-day? I knew all about it; 
where the office was, where Samuel A. Cooley was 
executing a dance and cracked his shin and the 
blood ran down into his shoe. Wells asked him if 
it didn't hurt him. He said: "I hit the bench, but 
I didn't know it hurt me," but all the while the blood 
was trickling down in his shoe, and then Wells said: 
"A new era in surgery!" 

He was a man of ideality, — a sensitive and quiet 
sort of man. He was a sort of poet in his way. He 
had been dreaming for some time of some way of 
escaping pain. His inquiry was whether a man 
might not take that gas and not know when a 
tooth was pulled if Sam Cooley (we all affectionately 
called him that) could hurt himself that way and not 
know it, — if a tooth might not be pulled the same 
way. You might think any one would have made 
that remark, that it was the most natural thing in 
the world to have said, but somehow or other it is 
only the real genius that does say that kind of thing 
after all, as Jenner discovered vaccination. 

Then to try it he got John W. Riggs to pull a 
tooth for him. Riggs held the bag and adminis- 
tered the nitrous oxid while Sam Cooley stood in 
front of Wells to keep him from jumping out of 
the window, for he knew how it affected a man. 
When consciousness was regained Wells said: "A 
new era in tooth pulling; it didn't hurt me the prick 
of a pin." Then he thought it could be ex- 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

tended to surgical operations, and it was not long 
before others were discussing this success under sul- 
furic ether, and within a year three operations were 
performed: a very serious surgical operation by Dr. 
Marcy under the influence of sulfuric ether and the 
other two by Dr. Morton. 

Here is a little handbook that Wells published 
defending himself, and here is another, gotten up in 
great indignation that any one should try to de- 
fraud Horace Wells of the honor of his discovery. 
Wells went to a college in Boston and demonstrated 
his discovery. He explained it to Morton, and 
Morton went one day and got Jackson and spoke 
about nitrous oxid, and Jackson suggested that sul- 
furic ether would do about as well, and on that those 
two men, on that shady thing, claimed they 
were the discoverers and they joined in the applica- 
tion for a patent which Morton obtained. The 
patent was very carefully drawn. He didn't say 
anything about nitrous oxid gas; he knew perfectly 
well all that Wells had done. It was simply sug- 
gested to him that there were other agents that had 
similar properties and would bring about a similar 
anesthetic state. They did not pretend to have dis- 
covered anesthesia, because they did not want to per- 
jure themselves. Why, when the steam engine was 
invented by Watt, it would have been just precisely 
the same thing if some one had come along and sug- 
gested that coal be used instead of wood, and then 
to have claimed to be the inventor of the steam en- 
gine; just as much' reason precisely. The only 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

question was whether there were other agents that 
would bring about the anesthetic state. 

Jackson never claimed to be the inventor of 

Your dentists and medical men have been oper- 
ating upon us, your surgeons and physicians, and 
with the antiseptic treatment have made wonderful 
advances in the treatment of all these internal dis- 
orders and derangements of whatever kind. They 
are literally extracting everything, no matter where 
it may be in you, that is disagreeable in any way; 
they cut it out and sew it up and put in a little silver 
wire and you are all right, and you don't know when 
it was done either. 

I thank you, and will not detain you any farther 
than to say to you that to-night we celebrate one of 
the greatest American discoveries. 

Dr. Darby in calling upon Dr. Truman, said: 
The dental profession claims among its own 
numbers the discoverer of anesthesia. It gives me 
pleasure to call upon a dentist to respond to the 
toast, — "Anesthesia as a Dental Discovery." I refer 
to Professor Truman, of the University of Pennsyl- 

Dr. Truman said: I have been impressed to- 
night with the story with which you are all familiar, 
or were familiar with in your early childhood, — the 
story of the "Ugly Duckling," by Hans Christian 
Andersen. You remember that this ugly duckling 
came out of his shell late; he was picked at, was 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

persecuted, and loved by no one, and the only talent 
he had was that he was able to swim. As he passed 
on through life he happened upon a tribe of wild 
ducks, and the leader of the ducks said to him: "You 
are very ugly, but you can swim and you can fly, and 
I think I will adopt you into our tribe; but you must 
remember you are never to marry into our family," 
— and eventually the duckling became a beautiful 

Now, it seems to me that dentistry occupies, in 
its relations to the professions, very similar charac- 
teristics to that ugly duckling. It was born late. 
It began its life in the middle of the last century, 
and has been growing and building its own centers 
of instruction, laying its foundations in therapeutics 
and pathology, and upon experience creating a pro- 
fession worthy the name. Standing this even- 
ing before this august assembly, I feel that the 
representation from fourteen states gathered here to 
do honor to one of our number indicates a profes- 
sional spirit which rejoices my heart. 

When Horace Wells, in Hartford, in 1844, dis- 
covered the properties of anesthesia, unnamed at 
the time, did he confine it to his own selfish pur- 
poses? It was a transition period in dentistry. 
Every professional man's hand was against every 
other man's. Horace Wells was broader than those 
with whom he came in contact. He desired to give 
the benefit of his knowledge to that "greater world," 
as Goethe loved to call it. He believed it was capa- 
ble of being used in major surgery, and did all that 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

was possible to arouse interest among medical prac- 
titioners. He went to that great center of medical 
instruction, Boston, and gave an exhibition before 
the medical faculty and students, and was hissed 
from their presence. This action will ever remain to 
the discredit of the medical profession in Boston. 

But Boston is not alone in this, for every age 
has stoned its prophets, and will probably continue 
to do this to the end of time. 

Dr. B. W. Richardson, of England, has in these 
latter days, and indeed in the past few weeks, in 
Longman's Magazine, undertaken to tear the mantle 
from Horace Wells's shoulders and place it upon 
those of Sir Humphry Davy. It has been a long 
period to wait to perform an act of this character; 
ninety-four years since Humphry Davy undertook 
to promote the discovery of Priestley. 

It is pertinent just here to consider what con- 
stitutes a discovery. It is certainly true that very 
few new things are born into the world through the 
unaided efforts of a single individual. The inspira- 
tions, apparently floating through the mental ether 
of the world, drop here and there as in the parable, 
some on rocky, some on poor, and some on fruitful 
soil. That falling on rocky soil dies in its birth, that 
on poor soil produces but a weakling, but the 
third brings forth fruit worthy of the generation. 
It fell upon Priestley, and there was no germination; 
on Sir Humphry Davy, and it ended in a dream; on 
Horace Wells, and the result was for the comfort 
and healing of the nations. 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

Has this introduction of anesthesia been of any 
real benefit to dentistry? I might say almost noth- 
ing. To be sure, in the earlier "duckling" age of 
this profession, the extraction of teeth was the prin- 
cipal business of the operator; but to-day dentistry 
has grown far beyond that. We might now follow 
the old Delphian idea and hang up in our temples — 
in our operating rooms and offices — the leaden for- 
ceps indicative that no tooth should be removed un- 
til it could be extracted by such an instrument. 

When Dr. Richardson wrote the article alluded 
to, he very vividly described the condition of sur- 
gery just prior to the introduction of anesthesia. 
He recalls the feelings of the surgeon, with all the 
care and anxiety of the day before him; the horror 
of the students, and the cries of the patients. Is it 
any wonder that there was intense excitement when 
the surgeon entered the classroom and announced 
that there would be no lecture that day, "that he had 
a piece of news to communicate, — nothing less than 
the discovery of a method by which the most im- 
portant surgical operation could be performed while 
the patient was asleep !" The news had come from 
Massachusetts Hospital. It is not surprising that 
the students followed the surgeon to the amphi- 
theater to see this wonderful operation. Was there 
one in that excited audience who thought of Sir 
Humphry Davy? No, he was entirely forgotten. 

When we contemplate the past history of the 
world, the horrors of the battlefields, the terrors of 
the hospitals, and the accidents of life, the mind fal- 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

ters in its attempt to grasp the aggregate of human 
misery. Who can translate this into words suitable 
for modern comprehension? This wail of the ages 
was voiced in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the 
Great Master of human thought, in anticipation of 
the cruel agonies of the cross, lifted up his voice and 
prayed: "Father, let this cup pass from me!" Eight- 
een centuries passed into oblivion with no response; 
but near high noon of the nineteenth, in the new 
world of Columbus, in a humble home in Hartford, 
there arose a "still small voice" sounding above this 
wilderness of suffering. It was wafted over the deep 
waters, echoed and re-echoed in joyous acclaim 
throughout the world: "Lo, the cry of agony from 
the surgeon's knife is silenced forever!" 

We cannot deify thee, as the ancient Greeks 
would have done, but we give thee most hearty 
thanks, and in our heart of hearts we enshrine thee, 
O Anesthesia, goddess of our modern civilization! 
though not the firstborn, the loveliest of all the 
children of discovery in this our nineteenth century! 

The professor was accorded long and continuous 

Dr. Darby then said: The discovery of Horace 
Wells and the discoveries which have succeeded 
those of Horace Wells have undoubtedly been of 
inestimable value to the evolution of surgery, to the 
medical profession, — to the surgical part of the medi- 
cal profession, — and they are greatly indebted to 
the discovery of anesthesia, and it gives me pleasure 
to call upon the gentleman to respond to the toast, 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

— "Anesthesia as a Factor in the Evolution of Sur- 
gery," by Dr. James William White, Professor of 
Surgery in the University of Pennsylvania. 

Dr. J. William White responded: Mr. Chair- 
man and gentlemen, the discovery of anesthesia af- 
fected the practice of surgery instantly; the princi- 
ples of surgery more slowly. It revolutionized the 
art in a twelvemonth; its influence on the science 
was more gradual, though none the less radical. Its 
effect upon the individual patient and operator of 
the period was little less than magical. Like the 
enchanted carpet of the Arabian Nights, it trans- 
ported them in the twinkling of an ey3 from the 
glaring light of one hemisphere to the soft darkness 
of the antipodes; from an atmosphere of pain, suffer- 
ing, and agony, of tense nerves and noisy struggles, 
of mental horror and physical anguish, to one of 
quiet slumber and sweet oblivion. If it had done 
nothing more for the victim of surgical disease and 
injury than to blot out the pain which from the 
very earliest dawn of surgery was inseparable from 
its procedures; if it had done nothing more for the 
operator than to transform the shrieking, writhing 
patient, strapped to the table and held there by stal- 
wart assistants, into the passive, unresisting and un- 
conscious subject of his knife, it would have justified, 
a hundred times over, this commemorative gather- 
ing. It would have been an achievement beyond all 
praise to have diminished by this much the sum of 
human suffering, to have added by this much to the 
efficiency of surgery, if it had done nothing more. 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

But these most obvious and most immediate re- 
sults of the discovery of anesthesia were the very 
least of the blessings that were to spring from it. It 
is not too much to say that it and it alone brought 
into the realms of possibility every great advance 
which has succeeded it. Dozens of modern opera- 
tions unknown and undreamed of in 1844, each of 
which has been followed by a reduction in mortality, 
affecting tens of thousands of patients, owe their 
birth to our ability to secure absolute quietude and 
full muscular relaxation. The professional pillory, if 
not the actual one, would have awaited the pro- 
poser of any of them five short decades ago, and he 
would have been classed literally and unhesitatingly 
among the criminal lunatics. The processes of 
disease and the results of traumatism are now suc- 
cessfully combated in regions which were uninvaded 
in pre-anesthetic days, and were thought to be surgi- 
cally unassailable. Astley Cooper and Ferguson, 
Velpeau and Dupuytren, stood helpless and useless 
before cases cured to-day by any recent graduate of 
a good medical school. The brilliant thought, the 
inspiration, of Wells fifty years ago so broadened 
the field of operative work and widened that of ex- 
perimental research on the lower animals that it 
made possible the discoveries of Lister and Pasteur 
twenty-five years later, and was thus the essential 
foundation of the grand superstructure which in its 
full development as modern antiseptic surgery saves 
weekly more human lives than were sacrificed in all 
the campaigns of the Caesars. December, 1844, 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

seems as far away from December, 1894, in the an- 
nals of surgical science as does the battle of Hastings 
from the last combat in the present war in the East, 
and it is no exaggeration to say that even in that 
half-civilized part of the world the surgical methods 
of to-day are so far beyond and superior to those 
of 1844 as were those of the latter date in advance 
of the methods of the eleventh century. The work 
of fifty years has surpassed and outstripped beyond 
all comparison that of eight hundred years. Anes- 
thesia and antiseptics have in this short time wiped 
out of existence an amount of suffering, disease, and 
death contrasted with which the mortality and 
misery of war, famine, and pestilence sink into in- 

It is not to be thought that surgery has reached 
its culmination. It might be imagined that the 
generation which in its infancy had witnessed the 
triumphs of vaccination and the introduction of an- 
esthesia, in middle life had been thrilled by the won- 
ders of antiseptics, and in its old age, in these de- 
clining years of the century, had seen the subjuga- 
tion of more diseases than had been brought under 
control in all the previous eighteen hundred years of 
the Christian era might be content; but such is not 
the case. Investigation, experiment, research, are 
going on more rapidly than ever before. The prizes 
to be won are as great as any yet secured. Tubercle 
and cancer remain to immortalize the men who shall 
finally conquer them, and although we of this gen- 
eration may not live to see it, there can be small 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

doubt of its ultimate accomplishment. While the 
look backward to the middle of the century is full 
of glorious memories for the surgeon who loves his 
art, the look forward is equally full of eager anticipa- 
tion; and for both the magnificent advances of the 
past and the splendid hopes for the future surgery 
owes a debt of undying gratitude to Horace Wells 
as the builder of the foundation, the layer of the cor- 

In calling upon the next speaker, Dr. Darby said: 
We have with us to-night a gentleman who has writ- 
ten much and talked a great deal on the subject of 
anesthesia; a gentleman, I might say, whose reputa- 
tion in that line is such that any statement he might 
make would be almost without question. It gives 
me pleasure, therefore, to call upon that gentleman 
to respond to the toast, — "The Debt of Medicine 
to Anesthesia," — Prof. Horatio C. Wood. 

Professor Wood responded: Gentlemen, your 
much-esteemed leader and colleague, Dr. Kirk, said 
to me four days ago that I would not be wanted to 
speak on this occasion. He came to me this even- 
ing and said that in the absence of the greater 
Pepper you would like to hear from the lesser 
Wood. Of course, I hesitated, but, after all, small- 
ness has its compensations. It takes the great 
lakes, the months of time, and a rolling Niagara to 
make the diapason of the wonderful cataract, but 
toss a stone in the purling stream and it sings its 
song; and if it only sings modestly and forgetful of 


The Fiftieth Anniversary- 

self, men listen and are instructed or comforted; so 
the lesser man, forgetful of self, can often teach the 
wise listener. Again, the man who has only a few 
books in his library does not take long to find any 
one on occasion, and so, since I have been sitting 
here, I looked over my scantily furnished shelves and 
brought forth a book, and this is what I read in it: 

That once upon a time twins were born into the 
world. One lusty and full of vigor, shouting always 
his own praises, pressing to the forefront of the bat- 
tle, living in blood, accident, and death; doing manly 
service always to his fellows. And the other was a 
quiet man, keeping in the background; thinking 
much; laboring more; speaking never of himself, but 
doing what he could in God's name for humanity; 
and the one was Surgery and the other Medicine. 

To the surgical twin, the man of blood and deeds, 
anesthesia has come as the greatest boon; to the 
philosophical thinker, the man of quiet reserve, anes- 
thesia is at the first sight not so much a gift. It is 
true, in the agonies of the sick room, when some 
spasm strains the human frame, the doctor would 
often be powerless to give relief had it not been for 
the great gift which came out of the city of Hart- 
ford; but this is only a trifle, so to speak, only a 
rare event in the daily life of the medical practi- 
tioner. The point I want to make to you is, how- 
ever, that deeper than you think, perchance, anes- 
thesia lies at the foundation of the great science of 
medicine. Men may say what they please; may pour 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

foul epithets upon the heads of those of us who are 
guilty of the practice of vivisection, but had it not 
been for anesthesia few would have had the nerve 
and the hard-heartedness to inflict upon the lower 
animals the pains of vivisection, and were it not for 
vivisection there were no modern medicine to-day. 

The old clinical method of comparing case with 
case, and accident of treatment with accident of 
treatment, was long ago exhausted. By such work, 
scarcely a fact has been added to medicine since I 
was a boy among medical students. Only as we 
have the power to vary the terms of the experiment 
can the experimental science increase, and so anes- 
thesia has made possible modern physiology; has 
made possible modern antiseptic surgery; has made 
possible modern medicine; has made possible this 
great and wonderful progress, which sometimes we 
stand by and look upon with reverential awe. This 
is what anesthesia has done for medicine. 

Will you pardon me a little thought that may 
seem digressive to you, but I cannot refrain because 
to-night I am bitter with indignation? It is this: 
That over and against modern medicine stands a 
great mass of the non-thinking public in bitter an- 
tagonism. We spend our lives ministering to the 
sick and the suffering and the dying, and they re- 
ceive us with pleasure, with grateful hearts, with 
true eagerness, in the hour of peril, but often they 
scorn us and our methods, and would persecute us 
to the death in health. Do you ever go back in your 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

memories to Servetus, as, bound to the stake before 
a slow fire, he gave up his soul, asking Christ to par- 
don Calvin, the theologian, for the bloody crime of 
his death? A typification of what medicine has too 
often been on the one hand, and the misguided peo- 
ple on the other. Nearly every other winter Dr. 
Mitchell and myself have to go to the Legislature 
of Pennsylvania. For what? To keep ourselves out 
of the Eastern Penitentiary! That is virtually 
true! Five per cent, of our lives — of our leisure 
lives that ought to be spent in the work of dis- 
covery — are spent in protecting ourselves and other 
physiologists against the people. Do you know 
what happened in this city the other day? Five 
men thrown into prominence by political power 
have degraded from position in a city hospital one 
of the most brilliant young physicians. For what? 
Because he tried to make a discovery and to follow 
in the footsteps of Wells. Don't make discoveries, 
they said, in action; you are put there to save the 
patients, and the patients shall not be allowed to 
suffer at all; and if, in our judgment, another pang 
is given a man in order that the world may be helped, 
we'll turn out the doctor that does it! Gentlemen, 
has the taxpayer no right in the city hospitals? 
Have the great bulk of humanity no rights in the 
city hospitals? Has it come to this that in a city 
hospital a man must mentally weigh every dose of 
medicine he will give, and say whether it is the best 
possible medicine that could be given to that pa- 
tient, and never press forward in the science by ex- 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

periment? I hold it to be a truth unalienable and 
absolute that no doctor has a right to put a man's 
life in peril, or put a man to any grievous injury for 
gain of knowledge, but I hold it also to be a truth 
that medicine is an experimental science, and if there 
be no room allowed for clinical experiment there can 
be no advance in the science of medicine. If a new 
drug be discovered, to determine the value of the 
medicine, on whom does the doctor try it? Usually 
on himself. 

When I came to the conclusion that strontium 
salicylate was a useful remedy, I tried it first on my- 
self, next on my wife. 

Let me say another word on a similar thought: 
In this republic there are few open rewards for men 
who — devoting themselves to science — really sacri- 
fice their lives for other people. Is there in the 
whole United States, from Canada on the north and 
Gulf of Mexico on the south, one statue to a doctor, 
unless, perhaps, that doctor has been a politician? 
Then the marble has been erected to the politician 
and not to the doctor. It is not a little thing that 
in these United States we have no distinctions, no 
open rewards for great deeds done in science. Do 
we wonder that Mammon worship grows when there 
is no reward to a medical man except his own sense 
of doing right, for the act of self-denial by which he 
puts off the making of money in order to achieve the 
higher work of discovery? Did you ever hear of 
Leidy, — the greatest scientist that the city of Phila- 
delphia has ever produced? (Applause.) Leidy, 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

the one man of America that was crowned by the 
French Academy of Science. He died, — five or six 
lines in the newspapers. That was all. Where is 
his grave? His monument? Why, gentlemen, if 
he had died in the city of Berlin a great civic and 
military funeral would have marked the national 
loss. Somebody said to me within a few days: 
"Why didn't you Philadelphia doctors discover anti- 
toxin?" Why? If we had tried to have done so we 
would have been put out of the hospitals! Why 
should the man sacrifice his personal gain and labor 
for the general good? Why should the prophet 
come when the people stone him? It is not to the 
surgeon that anesthesia does good; it is not to the 
doctor that anesthesia gives aid; it is to the people 
If the people were intelligent and knew what was for 
their own good, endowed laboratories, with large 
salaries for the few men of genius who are capable 
of running them, would abound. 

And I felt, while listening to the speech of Sena- 
tor Hawley, that the city of Hartford is proud of not 
only the man it has produced, but also of itself. 
And why of itself? Because, forsooth, fifty years 
after the man had been allowed to die in poverty it 
put up a commemorative tablet. Even this is a 
wonderful thing for an American city to do. For 
doing even this Hartford ought to be put upon a 
hill so that it could not be hid. (Applause and 

(Senator Hawley here remarked that many years 
ago the people of Hartford put up a very noble 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

statue in the City Park to Horace Wells, the discov- 
erer of anesthesia.) "There," said General Hawley, 
"is our challenge." 

Dr. Wood continued: Didn't I say right then, 
that the city of Hartford ought to be set upon a hill 
where we could worship it? Was I not right? 

Dr. Darby: Nearly all that has been said to-day 
of the discovery of Horace Wells has been stated 
from the standpoint of the dentists, physi- 
cians, and surgeons. I will now call upon a gentle- 
man to respond to the toast: "The Mastery of Pain 
from the Standpoint of a Layman." I shall now 
call upon Colonel McClure, editor of the Philadel- 
phia Times. 

After the applause had subsided, following his 
introduction by Dr. Darby, Colonel McClure said: 

Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, I wish to say at 
the opening that Dr. Wood certainly does not read 
The Times of this city, or he missed the number is- 
sued the day after the death of Doctor Leidy. I al- 
ways keep a doctor on the staff of The Times, and 
permit him to write on subjects relative to medicine. 
I always keep a preacher on the staff of The Times 
also, but he is not permitted to write about religion. 

I am very glad to have the opportunity to re- 
spond to this toast which has been assigned to me. 
I know all about it. Sometimes it disqualifies men 
for making after-dinner speeches when they know 
something about the subject, but I understand the 
subject of dentistry from its most primitive condi- 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

tion to its present wonderful achievement, and I 
must take chances. I was raised in the mountains 
of Pennsylvania, where dentists were unknown in 
my early days. I do not recollect even of reading 
of them in the newspapers. When I was quite a 
small boy, the man upon whom the drawing of teeth 
fell was the neighborhood blacksmith, — because he 
was very strong of arm. He had an instrument 
something like a gimlet with a hook to it which he 
used for dental operations. 

In the course of time we progressed in the coun- 
try as they do everywhere, and I remember the first 
advent of the dentist in the mountain neighbor- 
hoods of interior Pennsylvania. They stood one 
day at one place, and another at another. You 
would see handbills around the neighborhood 
that the celebrated horse would stand at the Bull 
Tavern so many days this week, and so many days 
next; and you would also see posted a bill stating 
that the dentist would be there on certain days of 
each month. They were peripatetic, coming and 
pulling out teeth in the neighborhood and arrang- 
ing to do little odds and ends. That was the be- 
ginning, — of course I don't know whether there 
was even any dental school in the city of Philadel- 
phia at that time, fifty years ago. (Some one sit- 
ting near the Colonel stated there was not.) There- 
fore you can form some idea of the kind of men we 
had for dentists, — generally men who were unfitted 
to do anything else. (Laughter.) I have also a 
pretty distinct recollection of the introduction of an- 
esthesia in the country. 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

Forty-six years ago I was publishing a village 
newspaper. It was the only period in my life, as I 
recall it, when I thoroughly understood the news- 
paper business. As I have grown older I have had 
more experience as an editor, but find I have now to 
learn something every day. Then I did not need 
it, — I knew it all. We had two village newspapers 
which employed two journeymen printers and two 
apprentices. One of them was a very enterprising 
and progressive sort of man, and I was somewhat 
progressive myself, especially if the experiment was 
to be made on somebody else. We had read and 
discussed this thing in the village tavern in the even- 
ings, — this discovery of anesthesia or chloroform, — 
but, of course, knew nothing about it. As country 
people like to talk over every subject that comes up, 
we discussed it very exhaustively, and finally one 
of the enterprising journeymen printers, who hap- 
pened to be my journeyman, concluded that it was 
something that ought to be tested and demon- 
strated, and he proposed himself as the man upon 
whom the experiment should be made. I was per- 
fectly willing he should be that man. We got a 
young doctor, who did not know much more about 
it than we did, to administer chloroform in the print- 
ing office of this journeyman printer with great suc- 
cess. He upset nearly every case of type in the 
office, and it took four men to hold him, and took 
an hour to get him out of it, but we concluded then 
that it was a very successful experiment, and that 
this was certainly a very great discovery in science. 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

I claim some little credit, therefore, for aiding the 
discovery of anesthesia. (Laughter.) 

I remember some thirty years ago suffering very 
much with toothache, when I lived in Chambers- 
burg. Then there were accomplished dentists, — 
educated dentists, — and we had one there. I went 
to him to have this tooth extracted. Of course, you 
don't go to have a tooth extracted until it is very 
much inflamed, everything about it very sensitive 
to the touch, and you can't sit still for a man to get 
proper hold of the tooth. It is simply a question 
of grabbing and jerking, — and he went at it. It was 
a wisdom-tooth, and he made a grab and jerk and 
broke it off under the gum. In a few days it became 
very troublesome again. I had been reading the 
accounts of using gas in this city for drawing teeth. 
As there seemed to be no other way of getting this 
tooth out, I 'came to Philadelphia and went to the 
office of Dr. Thomas, — I believe it was he who first 
introduced it here. I remember going to his office 
and making considerable inquiry about it, and his 
showing me a list of the names of the persons to 
whom gas had been administered. I remember that 
it was about eighteen hundred; that was the entire 
number of people in this commonwealth to whom 
gas had been applied to that time. I knew very 
little about it, of course, but felt much concerned, 
though he quieted me and assured me that it was 
perfectly harmless. There was no sign of instru- 
ments in the office. I sat down in the chair and he 
administered the gas. After a while I came to, and 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

I saw the case closed up ; no sign of anything having 
been done, and I said: "Why didn't you draw the 
tooth?" "Why," said he, "here it is." I am giving 
you precisely what happened. When sensibility was 
restored I had not felt anything whatever; I sup- 
posed he had not attempted to draw the tooth. 
Since that time I have had a number of teeth drawn. 
Whenever I find it necessary to have a tooth drawn 
I go to my work as usual in the morning until mid- 
day, or about midway between meals, then take my 
hat and go over to Dr. Thomas's and have one 
drawn, come back and go to work. (Applause.) 

I have never had the slightest inconvenience in 
any way whatever. I now think no more of having 
a tooth drawn than taking a glass of water. I am 
delighted, indeed, that we have reached this point. 
Dr. White tried his best to cut me in pieces during 
the last year. Seven times he amused himself with 
his scalpel upon me, — I knew no more about it than 
any person in this room. (Applause.) Ether was 
administered without difficulty, — never had any 
knowledge of or inconvenience from it, — and when 
the doctor felt ambitious he would simply adminis- 
ter it and whack away at me. Life was saved by it 
in my case beyond doubt. (Applause.) It is not 
a matter of dispute at all that but for the advance in 
medical science and the application of anesthesia I 
would not be among the living to-night! 

It has developed not only the destruction of 
pain, but it has developed the very highest standard 
of surgery. The world never had such surgeons as 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

it has to-day, never in its history; not because 
men are greater to-day than they have been, — al- 
though they are as great as of any period of the 
world, in all professions, for we live in the best age 
the world has ever seen, — but because of the dis- 
covery of anesthesia. It gave the profession of sur- 
gery the opportunity for the highest possible devel- 
opment, and, while Dr. White seems to be certain 
that we shall see advances in the future even yet 
beyond what has been attained to-day, it does seem 
almost impossible. 

I beg my friend, Dr. Wood, to be of good cheer. 
I have never known a monument of an editor to be 
erected in the United States. I have never known 
a monument of a lawyer erected in the United 
States. I don't recollect the monument of a 
preacher in the United States, — I mean as a 
preacher. I do not know of any intellectual profes- 
sion in this country, save that of statesmanship, that 
has received any monument from the people or the 

Be of good cheer, my friend. You are not be- 
hind the rest of the men engaged in intellectual de- 
velopment in the monuments which are reared to 
your great achievements. I grant we erect monu- 
ments rarely, and so has all the world, and we 
haven't got beyond it, — perhaps never shall, — I am 
not certain we ever should. We erect monuments 
to statesmen. Why should we not? They are the 
leaders and idols of the people. The men who 
create our laws; the men who mold our Govern- 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

ment; the men in whom the people place their very- 
highest confidence; and not one of them who has 
ever achieved has failed to have his praises sounded, 
and so it must be until time shall be no more. 

He makes one just complaint against the people. 
That is that medical advancement, medical science, 
is hindered by the people, — by ignorance. He did 
not use that term, but I do. Hindered by dema- 
gogues and notoriety seekers, who play upon the 
passions and prejudices of the ignorant, who teach 
them that medical advancement is brutal. But we'll 
get beyond that, doctor. The newspapers are grow- 
ing very much in importance and circulation, and 
just as they have grown so has intelligence widened 
and liberality progressed. In teaching as you do 
the right of the medical profession to employ every 
just means for its advancement, the press will sus- 
tain you. There has never been a contest of the 
kind in Pennsylvania when the press has not made 
public sentiment, so that you don't have to go to 
any special trouble to keep out of prison. We are 
living in an age so full of hope and beauty that I 
almost regret I am getting old myself. I think it is 
a great mistake for men to brood over the fact that 
they are getting old. There is nothing in the world 
more beautiful than he who grows old gracefully. 
I have never seen a day when I would want to turn 
back the march of progress. Every condition has 
its compensations, its duties, its achievements, its 
pleasures. And when I look at the young men 
around me on occasions like this, men of intelli- 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

gence, men of other professions, and think what op- 
portunities they have which we had not, and how the 
great highway to advancement is to be widened and 
broadened and the goal made more easy of access 
from year to year, I envy you that which you may 
achieve far beyond what we have achieved. It is, 
indeed, a season and time of hope; a time that should 
inspire every young man to the noblest efforts in his 
profession in the advancement of all that can benefit 

Only appreciate your opportunity, and when you 
shall come back to an occasion of this kind, a gen- 
eration hence, you will find that you have surpassed 
all that has been reached in the brilliant records of 
present achievement. The world is progressive; it 
moves, and, though it may be hindered and bothered 
by ignorance and superstition, it will as steadily set- 
tle to the right to the grand consummation as the 
quivering needle settles to the pole. 

In introducing the next speaker, Dr. Darby said: 
We have with us a member of the dental profession 
who has made for himself a reputation as an author 
and a teacher; a gentleman who has prepared and 
published the most exhaustive and magnificent chap- 
ter upon anesthesia, in that most magnificent work, 
— the system of dentistry, — that we have ever seen, 
and it gives me pleasure to call upon him to-night to 
respond to the toast, — "The Development of Our 
Knowledge of Anesthesia," — Wilbur F. Litch, of the 
Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery. 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

Dr. Litch responded: Mr. President and gentle- 
men, with the admirable addresses of Dr. Fillebrown 
and of Dr. Garretson fresh in my memory, I have 
listened to the interesting responses which have been 
made to the toasts of the occasion, and there has 
come to my mind with renewed force and signifi- 
cance that utterance of the great English historian, 
Lecky, who said: "It is probable that the American 
inventor of the first anesthetic has done more for the 
true happiness of mankind than all the moral philos- 
ophers from Socrates to Mill." 

In the year 1832 the distinguished French sur- 
geon, Velpeau, published a work upon operative sur- 
gery in which he made this assertion: "To avoid 
pain under incisions is a chimera which is no longer 
pursued by any one. A cutting instrument and pain 
in operative surgery are two words which never 
present themselves separately to the mind of the 
patient, and of which he must of necessity admit the 
inevitable association." 

Some fifteen years later the same great surgeon 
recorded the fact that, under the influence of sulfuric 
ether, he had just removed a cancer from the thigh 
of a patient without the slightest sensation. Now, 
this was a wonderful and memorable revolution in 
sentiment, and I have been asked to trace the de- 
velopment of our knowledge of anesthesia, — to fol- 
low the progress of the events which made that won- 
derful reversal of opinion and that marvellous result 

To do this systematically I should have to go 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

back through the crude empiricism of the ancient, 
medieval, and modern world, down to the discovery 
of Horace Wells, and so on through the patient and 
painstaking investigation of the past half-century. 
There is, of course, here neither time nor space for 
a retrospect so exhaustive in character, — exhaustive 
not only of the subject, but in all probability of the 
audience, as subjects exhaustively treated are apt 
to be. 

It will, I think, suffice to say, in regard to ob- 
tunding pain, that it is a primitive instinct of man, 
and that there has never been a time when anesthesia 
has not been sought for, and, as was stated this after- 
noon, by many of the nations of antiquity, and even 
of more modern days, anesthesia was practiced, al- 
though, of course, by methods all more or less crude 
and imperfect. Still, imperfect as these methods 
were, they were not by any means entirely ineffec- 
tive if the statements of many writers on this sub- 
ject can be believed, and the marvel is that some 
one of these methods was not systematized and per- 
petuated. It is true, of course, years ago, that in 
the employment of mandragora, hyoscyamus, hemp, 
and opium, the agents chiefly relied upon, the dose 
was difficult to regulate, and there was always great 
danger that in narcotizing the sensory nerve-tracts 
there might be produced fatal narcosis of the centers 
of respiration and circulation. 

A much safer and often a more effective anes- 
thetic, however, was alcohol in its various forms, the 
stupefying effect of which mankind has been ac- 
quainted with from quite a remote antiquity. 

Discovery of Anesthesia. 

Sulfuric ether was known for some five hundred 
years before Morton used it, and nitrous oxid gas 
was known for seventy years before it was applied 
by Wells. Why, centuries ago, was not alcohol to 
full intoxication systematically administered for an- 
esthetic purposes, as has been successfully done in 
our own day? Why was not nitrous oxid gas earlier 
used, as Wells used it, or ether, after the manner and 
for the purpose to which Morton applied it? These 
are among the puzzling questions which confront 
the student of human history. "The years teach 
much which the days never knew," says Emerson. 
That mysterious power which works in us and 
through us and for us, and which always makes for 
righteousness, has its own appointed seasons in 
which to nations, as to individuals, it grows in full 
measure the fruitage of that which they have sown, 
— whether for good or for evil. Anesthesia is as a 
flower which has slowly bourgeoned and at last blos- 
somed on the cross of human suffering. To His 
lips who once hung there, typifying our humanity 
and sharing our human anguish, the rude Roman 
soldiery pressed a draught bitter but lethal; suffer- 
ing humanity to-day breathes deep of subtler es- 
sences, and who shall say that the lesson of that life 
and of that death has not had, through its human- 
izing power, a controlling influence in determining 
the great discovery which to-day we commemorate? 

We marvel at the slow development of knowl- 
edge regarding anesthesia in the past; perhaps fu- 
ture generations will find cause for equal wonder- 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

ment that we are oblivious to facts and principles 
which to them may possibly be so simple and so ob- 
vious in character. Even now we have no exact 
knowledge as to how or why anesthetics anesthetize. 
So far as the mechanism of their operation is con- 
cerned, the probability is that, as first taught by Ber- 
nard, they effect upon the protoplasmic constitu- 
ents of nervous tissue a change closely allied, if not 
identical, with coagulation. The progressive se- 
quences of these effects upon the centers of intellec- 
tion, co-ordination, nervousness, respiration, and cir- 
culation were clearly described by Flourens in 1847, 
and, with the exception of later investigations as re- 
gards the effects upon the sympathetic system, the 
facts as he then presented them still remain practi- 
cally unquestioned and unchanged. 

As the result of careful experimentation of the 
Hyderabad Commission, the previous generally 
accepted view that chloroform is an agent having a 
specifically depressant power over the cardiac motor 
ganglia has been brought in question, the commis- 
sion's experiments apparently establishing the fact 
that the depression which results from chloroform 
narcosis is produced not by cardiac paralysis, but by 
capillary dilatation through the vasomotor system. 
Whether a knowledge of this fact will have any in- 
fluence in reducing the large percentage of fatalities 
which have attended the use of chloroform hereto- 
fore remains to be seen. It is a result sincerely to be 
hoped for, if not anticipated, because the more thor- 
oughly we understand the true role which any agent 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

plays in the economy of nature the more intelli- 
gently and effectively can that agent be applied. 

As a result of the discovery of the anesthetic 
properties of cocain locally applied, painless surgery 
in minor operations is now practicable in a large 
number of cases where before general anesthesia 
would, of necessity, have been resorted to. Unfor- 
tunately, even this agent is not entirely free from 
danger, because there have been quite a number of 
fatalities, and no inconsiderable number of cases in 
which dangerous symptoms have arisen are already 
on record. Thus the fact remains that, notwith- 
standing all the progress which we have made, the 
really ideal anesthetic for prolonged operations, at 
any rate, remains to be discovered, — an anesthetic 
which shall at once be perfectly safe, perfectly ef- 
fective, and entirely convenient of administration. 
Were it not for certain mechanical difficulties, 
nitrous oxid itself, in due admixture with oxygen, — 
a combination which is at once lethal and life-giving, 
— would very closely approximate the ideal which 
we seek. That these mechanical difficulties may yet 
be overcome is quite among the possibilities of the 

One word in closing, and I hope I shall not be 
held to have struck a false note in this symphony of 
praises in what I have to say on this point. Great 
as is the boon which anesthetics and pain-obtunding 
agents in general have bestowed upon humanity, is 
there not some danger that, like all other good 
things, their use may be perverted? Are we not grow- 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

ing too timid in regard to pain, — too clamorous for 
instant and immediate relief, even from the slightest 
suffering, for suffering which is often salutary, and 
which generally comes as a punishment for violation 
of natural laws, a punishment really intended by na- 
ture to be disciplinary and educational in its charac- 
ter? Upon this point a recent writer, La Galliene, 
has this to say: "No observing man will deny that 
this is comparatively an age of cowardice; at any 
rate it is an age of anesthetics. * * * And we 
may well pray for the spirit of our brave forefathers, 
who went to battle with stouter hearts than we take 
to the dentist." 

The "peach of emerald hue" and the aching molar 
alike have their mission on earth, — a mission which 
is far from being done. The hypoderm of the doc- 
tor and the gas bag of the dentist may somewhat 
interfere with the efficiency of nature's teaching by 
diminishing the severity of the punishment which 
in her school always follows lessons badly learned; 
but, after all, nature does not allow her disciplinary 
methods to be seriously interfered with, and, ex- 
cellent buffer as it is, the gas bag, allowing that to 
typify analgesic agents in general, — however placed 
or wherever placed, — cannot do more than some- 
what mitigate the anguish of the child or of the man 
to whom the good old mother of us all is adminis- 
tering a salutary spanking. 

Dr. Darby, introducing the next speaker, said: 
We have with us a gentleman who has the friendship 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

and respect of all law-abiding citizens, but for whom 
all the criminals stand in awe. It gives me pleasure 
to call upon him to respond to the toast, — "The 
Medico-Legal Aspect of Anesthesia," — District At- 
torney George S. Graham. 

Mr. Graham said: Mr. Chairman and friends, 
I remember reading some time ago a story 
that may be familiar to you all, but its ap- 
plicability to myself, under the present circum- 
stances, is so very clear that I am sure I will 
be pardoned for its' repetition. An old man was 
passing through the streets of a busy city when he 
observed a laborer with crowbar in hand, hammering 
lustily at a cellar wall which projected above the 
sidewalk. The old man stopped for a moment and 
said: "My friend, what are you doing?" "Why," 
said he, "this cellar is exceedingly dark and I want 
to let some light in." The old man went about his 
business, but came back an hour or two afterward 
and found the man still hammering with the crowbar 
against the wall, and he saw that very little, if any, 
progress had been made in widening the small aper- 
ture in it. He said: "My friend, you don't seem to 
have made much progress; you have not illuminated 
the darkness of that cellar very much." "Oh," said 
the man with great gravity, turning to the interro- 
gator, "I have not let much light in, but I have let 
a power of dark out." (Laughter.) 

"The Medico-Legal Aspect of Anesthesia," — 
upon that subject, when I have done, you will unani- 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

mously say: "My friend, you have not let much light 
in, but you have let a power of dark out." 

It was said once of the famous Daniel O'Connell 
that in a burst of indignation, which must have been 
somewhat akin to that which enveloped and ener- 
gized our good friend, Professor Wood, to-night, 
'he was at a loss, — I do not mean Professor Wood, 
for he is never at a loss, — but O'Connell. He was at 
a -loss for a word to express his indignation, and he 
said, turning to the man: "You unflamblasticated 
ruffian." Afterward a friend said to Mr. O'Con- 
nell: "What did you mean by that word?" and he 
said: "Indeed, I don't know; I only used it because 
it was a big one and had a mighty sound." (Laugh- 
ter.) I think your committee, when they selected 
the toast to which I was to respond, in choosing 
this term, "the medico-legal aspect of anesthesia," 
must have selected it because it was a big phrase 
with a mighty sound. And so I will not attempt to 
discuss before this learned and intelligent body of 
men the relationship between anesthesia and the law, 
or, as this term would indicate, how the medical 
effects which you have discussed are constantly ap- 
plied to or affect the legal profession in the adminis- 
tration of justice. 

If we were to take anesthesia in its broad sense, 
as the professor used it in his splendid speech to- 
night, I would say that it sets justice at defiance and 
makes courts ludicrous. (Laughter and applause.) 
It furnishes many a subject for the knife of the legal 
surgeon in the person of the Prosecutor of the Pleas. 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

On one occasion, — it must have been in the 
country where that blacksmith of whom we heard 
to-night, with sinewy arms, drew teeth with the 
prong of a pitchfork or a gimlet, that this scene 
occurred. A lawyer entered the courthouse and he 
was greatly under the influence of this anesthetic. 
(Applause.) As he stood in the presence of the 
court, hardly able to balance himself aright, the 
court thought it was proper to administer to him a 
severe rebuke, so he said: "Mr. Jones, you are a dis- 
grace to yourself; you are a disgrace to your family; 
you are ruining your own career, and involving them 
in suffering." "And does your Honor address me?" 
"Yes, sir; I am addressing you." "Then, sir, it is 
the first time, although I have been practicing fifteen 
years, that I have heard your Honor deliver a cor- 
rect opinion." (Laughter.) 

As personal reminiscences seem to be in order to- 
night, I will be pardoned, I am sure, for saying that 
I, too, can speak gratefully of this great discovery 
and its use. In that same chair, doubtless, in which 
Colonel McClure sat, it was my privilege to sit. I 
went to that office with a palpitating heart, sir; not 
as our ancestors went to the field of battle, with 
flaming courage and high hope, but I went there 
trembling and wondering if there would not be some 
restriction of circulation, or some destruction of the 
breathing apparatus, and thought that perhaps I 
would never come back again to the practice of my 
profession, and I was deploring the great loss to this 
community. (Laughter.) So I seated myself in 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

the chair under the persuasive and eloquent voice 
of Dr. Thomas, — and all those who have ever lis- 
tened to it know what sweet music it is, when we 
hear him say: "Now, just rest quietly; think of some- 
thing pleasant; now, gently, gently; just one more." 
And then, in the last supreme effort to retain con- 
sciousness, you hear him say, "Now, then just one 
full inhalation," and everything around you ceases to 
be. But it didn't for me. That is, I was oblivious 
to pain, but my mind seemed to be active. I had 
one of the strangest experiences, for a lawyer 
(Laughter), that ever fell to the lot of man. I was 
pondering upon that question which agitated my 
mind when I went under the influence of the gas, — 
would I die, or would I know when I ceased to exist? 
I thought I had reached the point where separation 
of the soul from the body took place; I felt myself 
lifted and floating, but, oh, with such delicious sen- 
sations, and with musical accompaniment so inex- 
pressibly sweet. I was satisfied when I heard the 
music, for I said to myself: "I know from the motion 
that I am rising, and these sweet sounds of music 
can be no other than those which would come from 
heavenly sources; I certainly am not going down, 
but I am rising to celestial worlds." I was in per- 
fect rhapsody, and I said to myself: "Well, if this is 
the end it is the right end, and I am satisfied it is 
all over, and I will have no more troublesome cases 
to try." When filled with this seraphic music and 
these delicious sensations of pleasure and delightful 
contemplations, I was rudely startled by a push on 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

the shoulder, and a voice saying, "Wake up, wake 
up!" Perhaps not as sharp an intonation as that, 
for Dr. Thomas never speaks sharply. Then I 
found the trick of the music, which was wholly due 
to a music box in operation upon the mantelpiece, 
and half of that dream was properly the result of this 
artificial cause, and was produced with malice afore- 
thought. (Laughter.) That is an account of my 
first connection of anesthesia with law. 

Now, the first criticism I have to make from a 
legal view point is this: That that experience and 
those charming effects gave the lie to history and 
tradition, for there is not a man outside of my own 
profession — of course we stand by our profes- 
sion and each other — but would have said that 
all history and tradition prove that at the Great 
Gate there is hardly ever an admission of a lawyer, 
yet the exalted effects of this state of insensibility 
opened to me a vision of a member of my proscribed 
profession entering that shining portal, and the his- 
tory and traditions concerning our profession were 
flatly contradicted. (Applause.) 

Now, there is another word, and it is a word of 
caution, for, after all that has been said here to-night 
by my friend, Dr. Wood, — and I have very great and 
high respect for him, both as a professor and a citi- 
zen, — there is a word of caution. These doctors 
who fancy that all humanity is indebted to them; 
these speculators upon the suffering of the human 
frame; these guessers in their diagnoses as to what 
ails us when we come to them with an ache or pain, 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

— and who know very little about it until after they 
have experimented on us for a very long time, — and 
these men in the dental profession who take up and 
administer these dreadfully potent agents, I have 
simply to say to you that for these strange imagin- 
ings that came to me, and which may have come to 
others, beware! For some time the patient will 
rise from the chair and seek the District Attorney's 
office, and tell the terrible scenes through which he 
has been compelled to pass, with all the earnestness 
of reality, and perhaps charge you with all sorts of 
crimes. Therefore, I say to you always do as Dr. 
Thomas did, — he always had a witness present. If 
you do not do business enough to have a witness 
present, make the patient bring a sister or a cousin 
or an aunt, and then all will be peaceful and well. 

There is another branch, however, of this great 
topic upon which I am letting out so much darkness, 
and it has been adverted to already to-night in the 
remarks upon the relationship between vivisection 
and the law. We find a great deal of trouble in har- 
monizing these two great classes of benefactors of 
the human race, — the doctor who practices vivisec- 
tion and the humanitarian who says this is the very 
quintessence of cruelty and it ought to be stopped! 
We may have the physician in court for cutting to 
pieces some beautiful dog, — I feel keenly on this 
subject, because I once lost a dog myself (Laugh- 
ter), — and there will be arrayed over against him 
splendid people, some of his own, and also of the 
other sex, — men and women, — with big hearts, 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

warm, thoughtful, and considerate. On the one 
side will be the cold, icy surgeon with his knife of 
glittering edge, and on the other these zealous hu- 
manitarians. And we have to stand — that is, we of 
the law — between them, as it were, to administer 
equity. So, after the prosecutors have had their say 
and the doctors have spoken in reply, and had their 
say, we of the law, protecting you in your bloody 
pursuit of knowledge, allow the jury to have its say, 
and that is always: "Not guilty, but don't do it 

Speaking, however, for the moment seriously 
upon that question, I feel just as earnestly as Profes- 
sor Wood the necessity of making these experi- 
ments, and I believe most earnestly that they are 
essential to progress and discovery, and result in 
great benefit to humanity. 

I want to-night to bring my little tribute from 
a sister profession and join with you in honoring the 
memory of this great discoverer of anesthesia. I 
want to come and say with you that it is well to re- 
call what he has done, and to speak of him the well- 
earned words of praise which have been spoken here 

What matters it though the statue of marble or 
bronze be not reared, if a man lives in the memory 
of the intelligent observers of his own profession, 
and is honored as the discoverer of something that 
brings great good to suffering humanity? There, 
there, my brothers, is found the loftiest pedestal on 
this footstool of God! (Applause.) It is only this 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

spirit which has convened this distinguished assem- 
blage to-night, and it is only this spirit which will 
make the distinguished men in any profession to be 
properly and suitably honored and respected for 
what they have done. Let me say as an axiomatic 
truth: Respect for a man in any profession must be- 
gin among his brethren in that profession, and never 
begins outside of it. (Applause.) First let it be 
generated there, and then it spreads until, like a 
little leaven, it leaveneth the whole lump. Let the 
legal profession honor and esteem its mighty men 
and the world will recognize their merit. Let your 
association esteem and honor your pioneers in ad- 
vancement and discovery, and the whole world will 
join in the sweet acclaim of praise and honor to 
them and to their memory. (Applause.) 

But, after all, what is there that is sweeter, bet- 
ter, stronger, more energizing, invigorating, and 
grander than a man's own conscience, clear in itself, 
conscious of and approving what it has done? No 
ungrateful world can rob a discoverer of that one 
great source of unextinguishable pleasure. That 
man is supremely blessed who, in himself, knows 
that he has done something for humanity. He car- 
ries with him in his life and takes with him at death 
something that is grander than monuments. Aye, 
something that is greater even than the gratitude 
of his fellow-men in his chosen profession. (Ap- 

In introducing the next speaker, Dr. Darby said: 
We have listened with great pleasure to a statesman, 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

a journalist, a lawyer, and doctors, and now we 
want to hear from the clergy. It gives me pleasure 
to call upon the Rev. S. D. McConnell to respond to 
the toast, — "The Humanitarian Aspect of Anes- 

Dr. McConnell said: Mr. Chairman and 
gentlemen, I wish to make my acknowledg- 
ment of your hospitality in inviting me to 
share your dinner, which, unfortunately, I was 
not able to eat on account of having had an engage- 
ment elsewhere. The same reason which prevented 
me from eating the dinner has also prevented me 
from sharing in the feast of reason and flow of soul 
(and other fluids) which have gone with it. 

I fancy if the District Attorney had as much ex- 
perience in certain directions as some of the rest of 
us have had, he would not have felt disturbed, as he 
complains, by the text which was assigned to him, 
for if there is one thing which a parson has learned, 
it is the ability to escape from a text. (Laughter.) 

But, seriously, I do not know of any sort of com- 
memorative banquet or public function which I 
would have traveled as far to attend, or be as happy 
in attending, as the public celebration of the practi- 
cal discovery of anesthesia. (Applause.) I have no 
hesitation in saying that I would rather be the man 
who had discovered anesthesia than any other mor- 
tal man who has ever lived. (Applause.) I believe 
that when, in the centuries to come, the achieve- 
ments of this century shall have been summed up 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

and weighed and measured, and the insignificant 
things shall have dropped out of sight, and only 
the really valuable things shall have survived, 
the one thing for which the century will be remem- 
bered will be that it was the one in which anesthesia 
was discovered and applied. (Applause.) I do not, 
of course, minimize the value of the progress which 
has been made in innumerable directions, more par- 
ticularly in the physical sciences, by this generation 
which it has pleased God to allow us to achieve; 
but it seems to me we have before us this evening 
one of those great, controlling events that do not 
happen once in a generation, or once in an age, or 
even once in a millennium, but which happen once — 
only once — in the history of humanity. 

We are familiar, of course, with the fact of pain, 
so familiar that its unbounded wonder escapes us. 
Nothing is more dreary, I think, than the disquisi- 
tions, learned and otherwise, wise and otherwise, 
which have been made concerning the function of 
human pain in the economy of humanity. It has al- 
ways been a favorite subject with a certain class of 
theologians. In any old book or system of theology 
you will discover a very large section given to the 
discussion of this question, — the meaning and use of 
pain. It runs very close to one of those baffling 
problems which underlie all human thought; that is, 
the origin and function of evil in the universe. The 
form which evil takes, ordinarily, is physical pain. 
It is the most common phase of all facts, but it is the 
most insistent of all facts. The strange property of 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

physical pain is that it produces results out of all 
relation to its own magnitude. A very small modi- 
cum of pain always makes itself felt, and is so in- 
sistent that it compels examination into itself. 
Now, here we have, in this discovery of anesthesia, 
a power which seems to reverse one of the elemental 
forces of nature. By anesthesia that force is turned 
backward and nullified, and apparently by the most 
insignificant appliances. It is a reversal of forces 
as striking as though a cyclone were arrested by oil- 
ing the hinge of the weathervane. Nothing, I 
think, could have been dreamed of, more utterly in- 
credible to the generations that have gone before 
our own, than the simple statement that this great 
elemental force of the universe is to-day arrested or 
turned backward. There seems to be no relation in 
the magnitude between the cause and the effect, and 
here I approach my text. (One never does ap- 
proach his text until toward the end of his sermon.) 

And that is this: The wonderful way in which the 
universal use of anesthesia has modified and influ- 
enced human life, men's ways of thinking and living, 
their whole attitude towards life and all that belongs 
to life. 

Its humanitarian influence has been, it seems to 
me, one of the most marked and wonderful of all 
these effects. You have all had your attention 
called, no doubt, to the fact — or at least what I be- 
lieve to be the fact — that the measure of sensibility 
to pain is the measure of civilization. The two 
things always go together. The lower civilizations 

S 9 

The Fiftieth Anniversary 

are indifferent both to the spectacle and experience 
of pain. 

Low organisms are relatively insensible to pain; 
human beings of a low moral organization are rela- 
tively insensible to physical pain. 

The measure of the capacity to suffer is the meas- 
ure of the capacity to do. 

Now, no one will question that, while we live in 
an age of physical anesthesia, we live in an age of 
moral and intellectual esthetics. 

It may be a question, — the intimation has been 
very wisely suggested by my friend on my right, — 
that it is possible we are becoming hyperesthetical; 
that we are losing something of the virility we ought 
to have, and the courage, in consequence of the fact 
that we have in our power an appliance which is able 
to obtund, often absolutely destroy, pain. I do not 
think, however, there is any peril from that; for, as 
he wisely concluded, after all that is done that can be 
done, the most that anesthesia will ever be able to 
do is to reduce and confine the operation of physical 
pain within the limits of use and healthfulness. It 
will never go beyond that. It may put an end to all 
these useless philosophical discussions as to the 
meaning and function of physical pain, which have 
never practically resulted in anything except to ena- 
ble the philosopher to bear with equanimity some 
other fellow's pain. 

There are ways, however, in which the discovery 
of anesthetics does constantly affect humanity as a 
whole. All who have had any necessity to observe 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

the effect of human suffering must have been pain- 
fully impressed with its power to demoralize. The 
demoralization caused by physical pain is something 
with which all physicians and clergymen are per- 
fectly familiar. I know it has often been thought, 
and frequently been asserted, that suffering physical 
pain has in itself a certain educative power, and that 
its intention is to elevate the patient in his spiritual 
state. My own observations, so far as I have been 
able to make any, lead me to precisely opposite con- 
clusions. I think sharp, long-continued, and unen- 
durable physical pain usually has quite as bad an 
effect on the moral structure of the sufferer as it does 
upon his physical make-up, so that anything which 
tends to remove physical pain tends in the same 
direction to elevate him morally. 

Now, we have all grown more and more sensi- 
tive; gentler in manner, gentler in thought. Ten- 
derness, which is constantly increasing in humanity, 
is the measure of its civilization. The world is 
growing constantly more gentle just in proportion 
as it is not compelled to look constantly upon physi- 
cal suffering. If you take a man and set him down 
where he is compelled to continuously look at physi- 
cal pain that man himself will grow hard. He is 
compelled to grow hard in self-defense; the strain 
upon his body and mind, long continued, is more 
than he can bear. The same is true of humanity as 
a whole. The simple fact that to such an extent 
the contemplation of physical pain has been re- 
moved from us makes humanity as a whole more 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

human. Now, the discoverer who has done this for 
humanity has not only relieved pain; he has not only 
taken away a part at least of the primeval and origi- 
nal curse, — the unspeakable agony of parturition; 
he has not only made men, who would not other- 
wise have been able to live live ; he has not only made 
men who have been cripples and helpless and a bur- 
den upon society self-supporting and self-respecting, 
but he has done more than that. He has enabled 
many and many a timid soul that was frightened in 
the presence of the awful fact of existence to look 
serenely upon life itself, upon suffering itself, and to 
walk down serenely into the last great mystery with 
more hope for the future, because he has found this 
life itself better than he had feared. (Applause.) 

Dr. Darby : Many of us were not present when 
Wells made his great discovery, hence such testi- 
mony in a court of justice would be valueless, 
but we have with us this evening a gentleman who 
was present when Horace Wells made his great dis- 
covery, and who was an important factor in that 
event. It gives me pleasure now to call upon the 
gentleman who, notwithstanding his years, is ap- 
parently vigorous and hale and is with us this even- 
ing. I shall ask him to respond to the toast, — "His- 
torical Reminiscences," — G. Q. Colton. 

Dr. Colton said: Mr. President and gen- 
tlemen, I have a little news to give you which 
I think will please you, and that is that I 
am going to make a very short speech. I am 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

put down for reminiscences. Well, we have said 
all this afternoon about gas and the discovery of an- 
esthesia that I think is necessary. Now I will give 
you one or two little items. It has been said by 
somebody that "a little nonsense now and then is 
relished by the wisest men." 

I remember when I was in California, in 1849, I 
carried a pair of forceps with me, because I thought 
that possibly somebody in the company might want 
a tooth extracted. I had never drawn a tooth, but 
still, possibly, I might try it at any rate. Well, some- 
body heard that I was a doctor. One night a man 
came and roused me up from my tent, a great big, 
strapping fellow, who said: "I want you to draw a 
tooth." He said it was giving him terrible pain. 
Well, I got up, struck a light and looked at the 
tooth. It was a great big molar, — an upper molar. 
I had a pair of straight forceps, and I said to him: 
"I cannot draw that tooth. I know it is impossible 
for me to draw that tooth." "Well," says he, "you 
can try." He said, "I will pay you whether you 
pull it or not, — whether you get it out or not." 
Well, I put the forceps on and I wrenched and 
wrenched, first one way and then the other, to get it 
started, but never started it at all, — never moved it 
at all. "Well," said the man, "you have scared the 
ache out of it, anyhow, and I will pay you." So 
I only charged him eight dollars, — half price. 

I remember that once I was giving an exhibition 
of laughing gas in Cooper Institute, New York, and 
had a very large audience. I gave my lecture be- 


The Fiftieth Anniversary- 

fore giving the gas. I talked and talked along 
about the properties of the gas and the effect of the 
gas, and all that, and I suppose a fellow on the out- 
skirts somewhere thought I was talking a little too 
long, and he said: "Give us some of the other kind," 
as much as to say that all I was giving them then 
was gas, — and I suppose it was. 

I never really drew but one tooth in my life. 
Two ladies came in my office one day; one of them 
had her face all done up, and I said to them: "There 
is no person here to draw teeth, — I don't draw 
teeth." But she said she came a great distance. I 
looked at the tooth and found it was a lower wis- 
dom-tooth with no crown to it, standing all alone 
by itself, and I told her I could possibly get it out, so 
I said: "If this lady will assist me in holding the tube, 
so we can give the gas, I will do the best I can. I 
will be careful about getting hold of your gum, and 
all that, and if I don't get the tooth out you won't 
be any worse off than you are now." She took a 
seat in the chair, — I knew the instrument the doctor 
used for that tooth, — and I gave her the gas and got 
her thoroughly under the influence of it. Now, the 
doctor just puts his finger under the patient's tongue 
and jerks the tooth right out; but I couldn't do that. 
It got in the way and the tongue bothered me. I 
was working away, and thought I had hold of the 
tooth, but was not quite sure of it, and I wiggled and 
wiggled away, and for so long that she began to re- 
cover. I took the instrument out and the tooth 
dropped out on her dress. I had it in the instru- 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

ment and didn't know it. She said it was a splendid 

Now, you may remember a little story that went 
the rounds of the papers a few months ago, of a 
young man who called upon a gentleman and said: 
"I have called, sir, to ask you for the hand of your 
daughter. I am poor but have good prospects." 
"Well," said the gentleman, "before we enter on that 
question, can you accommodate me with five dol- 
lars?" "No," said the young man, "I cannot." 
"Take her," he said:' "I didn't know you had so 
much sense." (Laughter.) Now, there are, I sup- 
pose, some young men here who will be interested 
in a little bit of Shakespeare. There is one passage 
in the play of "Hamlet" which, if a young man will 
commit to memory and govern his life accordingly, 
he will escape a great many pitfalls. 

Now, it is the advice of Polonius to his son, 
Laertes. Laertes is going abroad to travel, and his 
father gives him this advice: 

"Yet here, Laertes ! aboard, aboard, for shame ! 
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail, 
And you are stay'd for. There ; my blessing with thee ! 
And these few precepts in thy memory 
See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue, 
Nor any unproportion'd thought his act. 
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar. 
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, 
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel ; 
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment 
Of each new-hatch' d, unfledged comrade. Beware 
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in, 
Bear 't that the opposed may beware of thee. 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice ; 

Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment. 

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy, 

But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy; 

For the apparel oft proclaims the man, 

And they in France of the best rank and station 

Are of a most select and generous chief in that. 

Neither a borrower nor a lender be; 

For loan oft loses both itself and friend, 

And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. 

This above all ; to thine own self be true, 

And it must follow, as the night the day, 

Thou canst not then be false to any man." 

Dr. Darby next introduced the son of Horace 
Wells, saying: There is but one other speaker, and 
that will be the son of Horace Wells. We are very 
glad to have here to-night a lineal descendant of 
Horace Wells, and it gives me pleasure to call upon 
Charles C. Wells, of New York, to respond to the 
toast, — "Personal Reminiscences." 

Dr. Wells responded: Mr. President and gen- 
tlemen, the subject "Reminiscences" calls up to me 
much of the past and much that is sad. I was 
but little more than five years of age when this 
discovery you celebrate to-day was made, and too 
young then to comprehend its full value or realize 
its importance, as I did later. I remember my 
father well, and my recollection is helped somewhat 
by friends of his and mine, some of them living 
to-day, who knew him intimately and are familiar 
with the facts connected with this discovery. He 
was gentle and quiet in temperament, considerate 
of others, and beloved by all. He was a Chris- 
tian gentleman. He studied much; was observant 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

and interested in whatever of discovery and 
invention took place in those days. He was a 
good deal of a naturalist, and at one time lectured 
on natural history, and I remember attending one of 
those lectures. He had inventive faculties of a high 
order, and had invented some of the instruments 
used in his practice and some household appliances 
only for personal use, which have since come into 
general use. I remember well his office where this 
discovery was made, and was often there. I liked to 
be with him, and it was an attractive place to me, 
for he had there cases of butterflies and stuffed birds, 
and other things that interested me. 

Professor (afterward President) Abner Jackson, 
of Trinity College, testified: "Dr. Wells was a person 
of a peculiarly philosophical turn of mind, and was 
very much more than an ordinary man. He was ac- 
customed to extend his inquiries much beyond the 
sphere of his profession, and was well suited to make 
such a discovery." 

Dr. Marcy testified: "He possessed a peculiarly 
active, investigating, and philosophical mind, and 
was therefore almost constantly engaged in re- 
searches and inquiry such as would naturally attract 
the attention of a man of his tastes." 

Dr. Ellsworth testified: "He possessed an active 
and inquiring mind, and was inventive and versa- 

I remember his times of abstraction when, with 
eyes closed, he was studying some subject, as he did 
often, and we were careful not to disturb him then. 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

He was sensitive to the infliction of pain in his 
practice, and had given much thought fcr at least 
two years before the event you celebrate to-day to 
the possibility of rendering one unconscious of pain 
during surgical operations. That discovery was not 
one of accident or chance. He was looking for it 
and realized it on that nth day of December, 
1844, exclaiming: "It's the greatest discovery ever 
made." More than this, he followed this by ex- 
periments (always upon himself), with a view of find- 
ing other agents to produce the same effect, and 
hoped in the possibility of some by which one could 
be rendered insensible to pain while conscious other- 
wise. He used ether, too, but gave the preference 
to nitrous oxid gas. 

He suffered in health by these experiments, and 
at times was obliged to relinquish his practice for a 

He did not seek, as some other claimants did 
later, to restrict its use or to profit in its use by oth- 
ers, but expressed the wish that "it be as free as the 
air we breathe." 

In December, 1846, he went to France and was 
received with honors, and was afterward made an 
honorary member of the Parisian Medical Society, 
and received an urgent and distinguished call to re- 
move to Paris. 

This discovery brought to him little but trouble 
and controversy, and he died at the early age of 
thirty-three, leaving only the legacy of a good name 
and the honor of this discovery. For many years 

Discovery of Anesthesia. 

following his death others sought to rob him of the 
honor due him and obtain recognition and public 
money. Those years were full of trouble, and I wish 
at this time to pay a grateful tribute to the Hon. 
Truman Smith, United States Senator from Con- 
necticut, to whom we owe much. Other claims 
coming before Congress, upon investigation, he be- 
came convinced of the justice of that of Horace 
Wells, became his defender and champion, ever after 
giving his time and pen freely to his cause and de- 
feating attempts by others for recognition and ap- 
propriation of money. 

Justice moves slowly at times, but it has come 
in these later years, and it is a satisfaction to me that 
my mother, ever loyal to his memory, suffering 
much in the earlier years, refusing more than once 
offers of compromise by which large sums could 
probably have been obtained, lived to see him fully 
recognized and honored as the author of this discov- 

You of his profession have repeatedly honored 
his memory; for this and the honor and justice you 
pay him to-day I thank you. 

It means much, very much, to me, his only de- 
scendant; more, I believe, than it can to any one 
else living, and it is a satisfaction to me that he ac- 
complished so much of blessing to mankind. 

This closed the exercises of the day. 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 


The following statements are taken from the 
depositions of participants in the events described in 
the foregoing papers. The full text of the evidence 
may be found in the library of the Boston Medical 
Library Association, and also in Smith's "Anes- 
thesia," published in Hartford in 1853: 

Linus P. Brockett, M.D., deposed: "I resided 
in Hartford in 1840, and knew Dr. Wells. 
At this time, in conversation with me, Dr. Wells 
remarked 'that he believed that a man might be 
made so drunk by this gas, or some similar agent, 
that dental and other operations might be performed 
on him without any sensation of pain on the part of 
the patient.' " 

Deposition of G. O. Colton, of the city of New 
York: "in the month of December, A.D. 1844, I de- 
livered in the city of Hartford, in the state of Con- 
necticut, a course of lectures on chemistry and nat- 
ural philosophy. I believe the first lecture was de- 
livered on the 10th of December. On the same day, 
as I now think, I took a bag of the gas to Dr. Wells's 
office, and he (Dr. Wells) went out and called in Dr. 
Riggs, a dentist nearby. Dr. Wells sat down in a 
large armchair, took the bag into his hands, and 
breathed the gas until he became insensible, when 
Dr. Riggs extracted the tooth, which was a large 
double tooth. Dr. Wells remained insensible a 
short time after the tooth was extracted, but on re- 

Discovery of Anesthesia. 

covery he cried out: 'It did not hurt me more than 
the prick of a pin; it is the greatest discovery ever 
made,' and continued for some time similar exclama- 
tions, but what I cannot precisely recollect. I soon 
after left Hartford, and did not hear any more of the 
subject till I saw, a few weeks subsequent, a para- 
graph going the rounds of the newspapers announc- 
ing that Dr. Wells was extracting teeth without 
pain, and I stated on several occasions, in connection 
with that paragraph, how and when the discovery 

Extracts from the deposition of John M. Riggs, 
dentist, of Hartford, Conn.: "On the evening of the 
ioth of said December, Dr. Wells came into my 
office after Mr. Colton's lecture and said that he and 
others had taken the above gas; and remarked that 
one of the persons had injured himself and stated, 
after recovering from the effects of the gas, that he 
did not know at the time that he had sustained such 
injury. Dr. Wells then said: 'He did not feel it; 
why cannot the gas be used in extracting teeth?' 

>|« 5j< >ji ^t >|; 5|< 5|S 

"The next morning Dr. Wells came with Mr. 
Colton and his bag of gas to his (Dr. Wells's) office 
and called me in. There were present, besides Dr. 
Wells and myself, Mr. Colton, Mr. Samuel A. 
Cooley, and some others whose names I cannot now 
recall. Dr. Wells, after seating himself in the oper- 
ating chair, took the bag and inhaled the gas, and 
after he had been brought sufficiently under its influ- 

The Fiftieth Anniversary 

ence he threw back his head and I extracted the 
tooth. It was a large molar tooth in the upper jaw, 
such as is sometimes called a 'wisdom-tooth.' It re- 
quired great force to extract it. Dr. Wells did not 
manifest any sensibility to pain. He remained un- 
der the influence of the gas some time after, and im- 
mediately upon recovering from it he swung his arms 
and exclaimed: 'A new era in tooth pulling!' He re- 
marked he did not feel any pain from the operation. 
* * * We were so elated by the success of this 
experiment that we immediately turned our atten- 
tion to the extraction of teeth by means of this 
agent, and continued to devote ourselves to this sub- 
ject for several weeks almost exclusively. * * * 
Dr. Wells continued to use the gas freely in the prac- 
tice of dentistry during the remainder of that year 
and the year following, and at all times when he was 
in the practice of his profession. I myself also used 
it as people demanded it, which they ordinarily did. 

"It was the subject of profound interest in Hart- 
ford, and attracted unusual public attention through 
the years 1845 an d 1846. It was notorious here in 
the winter of 1844-45 an d afterward that Dr. Wells 
had made the important discovery that the system 
could be made insensible to pain during dental 
operations. Dr. Wells was enthusiastic and san- 
guine in the pursuit of objects toward which he 
turned his attention, and was one of the most in- 
offensive men I have ever known. 

"He pursued his business with great ardor when 
able to do so, but was obliged occasionally to aban- 

Discovery of Anesthesia. 

don it, owing to failure of health, but at no time 
did he abandon his claim to this discovery or the 
use of it. During the intervals of interruption he 
referred his patients to me, and would bring them to 
my office and ask that gas might be given. 

* * * * >!< >;< 5|s 

"I find on reference to my books that this agent 
was used by me in extracting teeth up to November 
2, 1846, which is my last charge." 

David Clarke deposed: "I attended the ex- 
hibition in Hartford given by Mr. Colton, and saw 
Mr. Cooley injure himself and heard him remark: 
'I did not feel pain at any time'; still the blood 
was running down his limbs. Wells turned to me 
and said: 'I believe a man by taking that gas could 
have a tooth extracted or a limb amputated and not 
feel any pain.' 

"A month or two afterward I was in the office of 
Dr. Riggs, of this city (Hartford), to have some den- 
tal work done, and Dr. Riggs administered the gas 
to me and extracted for me a large tooth without 
the least pain." 

Extract from a deposition of C. A. Taft, M.D., 
of Hartford, Conn. 

"I knew the late Dr. Horace Wells, dentist, of 
Hartford. I think I first met and knew Dr. Wells 
when he came to Boston in January, A.D. 1845, f° r 
the purpose of making known his discovery of an 
anesthetic agent to the medical faculty of that city. 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

I was at that time a member of the medical class of 
Harvard University. 

"Dr. Wells was introduced to our class by Dr. 
John C. Warren, then Professor of Anatomy at the 
University. Dr. Wells then made a statement of 
his discovery, spoke of its importance, and his hopes 
of introducing it — the anesthetic agent — into gen- 
eral use in surgical operations. 

"On the same or the following evening Dr. Wells 
proceeded to administer the nitrous oxid gas to sev- 
eral of the students and spectators present. At this 
time Dr. Wells extracted a tooth for some one un- 
der the influence of the gas. The patient hallooed 
somewhat during the operation, but on his return to 
consciousness said he felt no pain whatever. I took 
the gas with others at that time, and while under 
its influence I was entirely unconscious. Others to 
whom the gas was administered made the same 
declaration. The gas was administered and inhaled 
from a mouth-piece attached to a bag. 

"I regarded the operation at Boston, above de- 
scribed, as successful and as proving the truth of 
Dr. Wells's theory. For, although the patient made 
some noise, — a phenomenon constantly witnessed in 
the use of any anesthetic agent, — he nevertheless 
said he felt no pain." 

Deposition of David S. Dodge, M.D., of the city 
of New York. 

"I, David S. Dodge, physician, of the city, 
county, and state of New York, being duly cau- 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

tioned and sworn, do depose and say that I was for 
many years a practicing physician and surgeon in the 
city of Hartford, in the state of Connecticut, and 
was well acquainted with the late Horace Wells, 
dentist, and had knowledge of the fact that Mr. 
Wells discovered the anesthetic properties of nitrous 
oxid gas and sulfuric ether as early as the year 1844; 
that he was frequently in the habit of using the 
former agent in producing insensibility while pur- 
suing his usual avocation. * * * In conversa- 
tion he mentioned several disappointments he ex- 
perienced during a visit to Boston, about the winter 
of 1844-45, when he was invited to administer the 
gas to a patient previous to an operation to be per- 
formed in the presence of the class of Dr. Warren's 
medical students; that the gentlemen of the faculty 
had no confidence in the proposed use of the gas, and 
that while he (said Wells) was endeavoring to ad- 
minister the gas to a patient as above, he was greatly 
annoyed by the offensive remarks and the occasional 
sneers of the audience." 

Extracts from the deposition of P. W. Ellsworth, 
M.D., Hartford, Conn. 

''Toward the close of 1844 I was informed that 
Dr. Wells had discovered an agent by means of 
which the body could be rendered insensible to pain 
under dental operations. * * * It was then 
notorious here that such a discovery had been made. 
* * * j n j an uary, 1845, I witnessed a success- 

The Fiftieth Anniversary 

ful dental operation, being the extraction of a tooth 
without pain, by administering nitrous oxid gas. 

>jt ^ 5JC i(l ^ H 5 H 5 

"Very early after the discovery of Dr. Wells, and 
before I heard anything of the pretensions of Dr. 
Morton, to wit, some time in the year 1845, Dr. 
Wells spoke to me respecting the comparative 
safety of nitrous oxid gas and sulfuric ether, and I 
gave him my opinion in favor of nitrous oxid gas, 
and advised him to confine himself to the use of that 

Extracts from the deposition of E. E. Marcy, 
M.D., of the city of New York. 

"About the year 1838 I settled as a physician and 
surgeon in the city of Hartford, Conn., and con- 
tinued to reside there and practice my profession up 
to 1859, when I removed to this city and have since 
been engaged in practice here. I was intimately ac- 
quainted with Dr. Horace Wells, surgeon-dentist, 
late of said Hartford, deceased. 

JjC 5jS % $Z ^J 5jC >£ 

"I further say that some time in the fall of 1844 
Dr. Wells came to my office and informed me that 
by administering the nitrous oxid gas he could ex- 
tract teeth without pain. * * * I went to his 
office and witnessed the extraction of a tooth from 
the person of F. C. Goodrich, Esq., of said Hartford, 
by Dr. Wells, after nitrous oxid gas had been in- 
haled, and without the slightest consciousness of 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

pain on the part of the gentleman to be operated 
upon. * * * That it was in the fall of 1844, I 
am positive; and within two or three days after I 
had understood Dr. Wells had made the discovery. 

><c ^ >H ^ ^ sjs sjs 

"Immediately after the discovery the fact be- 
came generally known in Hartford, and was the 
subject of much conversation. Dr. Wells was ex- 
ceedingly enthusiastic upon the subject; was inces- 
santly conversing about it, and prosecuting his ex- 
periments. Numerous trials were made by Drs. 
Ellsworth, Berresford, Riggs, Terry, and myself, 
both in large and small operations, which fully es- 
tablished the efficacy of the gas. * * * Know- 
ing, as before remarked, that the inhalation of sul- 
furic ether vapor produced similar effects to those 
of the gas, from numerous former trials, as above 
alluded to, I suggested to Dr. Wells the employ- 
ment of the vapor of rectified sulfuric ether, at the 
same time detailing to him its ordinary effects, upon 
the economy, and the method of preparing the article 
for use. Our first impression was that it possessed all 
the anesthetic properties of the nitrous oxid gas, 
was equally safe, and could be prepared with less 
trouble, thus affording an article which was not ex- 
pensive, and which could be always kept on hand. 
At the same time I told Dr. Wells that I would pre- 
pare some ether and furnish him with some of it 
to administer, and also make a trial of it myself in a 
surgical case which I expected to have in a few days. 
This conversation took place in Dr. Wells's office at 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

the time the tooth was extracted from Mr. Good- 
rich. Accordingly, within two or three days after 
that event I administered the vapor of rectified sul- 
furic ether in my office to the person alluded to in 
my conversation with Dr. Wells, and after he had 
been rendered insensible to pain I cut from his head 
an 'encysted tumor' of about the size of an English 
walnut. Dr. Wells came in during the operation, 
and sufficiently early to form an opinion on the sub- 
ject. It was entirely successful, and conclusively 
proved to Dr. Wells and myself the anesthetic prop- 
erties of ether vapor. Dr. Wells then wished me to 
investigate the subject carefully and endeavor to as- 
certain whether this vapor was as safe as the gas. 
He informed me that Dr. Riggs had told him he had 
inhaled both of these substances when in Washing- 
ton (now Trinity) College, and that it was his im- 
pression, from the effects of the two upon himself 
and others, as well as from the views inculcated by 
Professor Rogers in his lectures upon these sub- 
stances before the class, that the inhalation of the 
ether vapor was more dangerous than that of the 
nitrous oxid gas. Accordingly, at the urgent re- 
quest of Dr. Wells, I read what could easily be pro- 
cured in relation to both articles, and formed the 
opinion that the constituents of the gas were more 
nearly allied to the atmospheric air than those of 
ether vapor; that the former was more agreeable and 
easy to inhale than the latter, and upon the whole 
was more safe and equally efficacious as an anesthetic 
agent, which opinion I communicated to Dr. Wells. 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

All this took place before Dr. Wells went to Boston 
to announce his discovery to the faculty there." 

Extracts from the deposition of John B. Terry, 
dentist, of Hartford, Conn. 

'That I was well acquainted with the late Dr. 
Horace Wells from about the year 1840. In the 
year 1844 I was residing in this city in practice of my 
profession as a dentist. Immediately after the re- 
puted discovery of Dr. Wells, in 1844, I was in- 
formed respecting it by himself and witnessed many 
experiments by him, and saw the apparatus by which 
he administered the nitrous oxid gas for the purpose 
of rendering his patients insensible to pain in the 
extraction of teeth. I knew of his discovery prior 
to his going to Boston to make it known to the 
medical men there; on his return from Boston, Dr. 
Wells told me he was disappointed in its operation; 
there was, he said, too great hurry or some defect in 
preparing the gas; that the ammonia perhaps was 
not good; but he still expressed a determination to 
convince the world that it was a valuable discovery, 
and a full belief that any surgical operation could be 
performed without pain under the influence of 
nitrous oxid gas. Dr. Wells was obliged to sus- 
pend his business at intervals, much to his regret, as 
he said if he could have continued it he could have 
made a great deal of money in extracting teeth un- 
der the influence of the gas. During the time he 
was engaged in his profession he continued to make 
improvements in the construction of his inhaling ap- 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

paratus, in the nitrate of ammonia, of which the gas 
was made, in the gas itself, and its mode of prepara- 
tion from the time of his discovery to his death. 
These improvements I continued to use afterward; 
I had an office adjoining the one usually occupied by 
the late Dr. Wells, and we were associated together 
on the 19th day of December, 1846, in the practice 
of dentistry; for nearly a year before this we were 
associated without terms of partnership, and while 
he was absent I attended to his business in part and 
made him an allowance. * * * When he was 
absent I administered the gas for him. I am cer- 
tain that prior to October, 1846, I was in the fre- 
quent habit of administering the gas. * * * I 
think I have administered more of this gas for dental 
purposes than any other person, and I am well ac- 
quainted with all its effects. Before Dr. Wells left 
for Europe he spoke about making known his dis- 
covery there, and at my recommendation took out 
an apparatus for administering the gas. * * * 
One of his objects in going to Europe was to publish 
his discovery there; when Dr. Wells was in Europe 
I received letters from him saying he was meeting 
with great success; our partnership was then exist- 
ing, and was not dissolved till after his return." 

Extracts from the deposition of John Braddock, 
dentist, of Hartford, Conn. 

"During the year 1845 I was i n tne practice of 
dentistry in this city for the period of about six 
months. I came to Hartford in the month of Jan- 

Discovery of Anesthesia. 

uary, 1845, from the city of Philadelphia, where I 
had been in business about a year. Immediately on 
my return from Philadelphia I learned from Dr. 
Wells himself that he had discovered that, by the 
use of the nitrous oxid gas, teeth could be extracted 
without pain. *********** 

"The discovery of Dr. Wells was notorious in 
Hartford at that time; it was a common topic of con- 
versation, and I have no hesitation in saying that in 
my opinion Dr. Wells was the first to discover and 
use an agent by means of which dental and surgical 
operations could be performed without pain. 

"In the spring of 1845 I saw several teeth ex- 
tracted for different persons under the influence of 
this agent, by Dr. John Riggs, with the most sat- 
isfactory results. The patients seemed to experi- 
ence no pain whatever, and after the operations were 
performed and the effects of the gas had passed 
away they so expressed themselves." 

Deposition of E. E. Crofoot, dentist, of Hart- 
ford, Conn. 

" * * * I knew the late Dr. Wells intimately; 
he had the reputation of having discovered a mode 
of extracting teeth without pain; I never saw any of 
his operations, but have seen those on whom he had 
performed. I have had some personal experience in 
the use of anesthetic agents, having extracted two 
teeth for a Miss Angelina Griswold, of West Hart- 
ford, while under the influence of nitrous oxid gas. 
Both teeth were removed at one sitting, and in a sat- 

The Fiftieth Anniversary 

isfactory manner. This was in the year 1845 or 
1846, previous to a severe sickness which I had, com- 
mencing in September, 1846, which continued many 

Deposition of Abel Ball, dentist, of Boston, 

« * * * j n j 845 Dr. Wells called at my 
office and informed me that he had made 'an impor- 
tant and valuable discovery.' He stated that he had 
discovered that by the inhalation of nitrous oxid 
gas pain could be entirely prevented during dental 
and surgical operations, and added that he had come 
to this city for the purpose of introducing his dis- 
covery to the notice of the medical faculty and the 
public generally here. And I believe this to have 
been his only object in coming to Boston at that 
time. * * * Shortly before he left for Europe 
he called on me and stated that he was going to 
Paris to establish his claim as such discoverer before 
the medical faculty there. After his return from 
Paris he called on me again, and spoke of his success 
in establishing his claim." 

Extracts from the deposition of Francis C. Good- 
rich, of Hartford, Conn. 

* * * In the latter part of the year 1844 
I learned that Dr. Wells had made a very important 
discovery, by which he could render the nervous sys- 
tem insensible to pain under severe surgical opera- 
tions. This was accomplished by the use of nitrous 

Discovery of Anesthesia. 

oxid gas. In the month of November or Decem- 
ber, I think in November of the year above men- 
tioned, and after the experiment had been tested in 
a measure, I submitted to the operation of having 
a tooth extracted by Dr. Wells while under the in- 
fluence of nitrous oxid gas, which was performed in 
the presence of Drs. Marcy, Kitteridge, and Riggs, 
and was unattended with even the slightest sensa- 
tion of pain to the nervous system. * * * Soon 
after the operation to which I submitted, as men- 
tioned above, I witnessed a similar experiment upon 
two persons, — namely, J. Gaylord Wells and Wil- 
liam H. Burleigh, Esq., both having one or more 
teeth extracted by Dr. Wells, apparently, and as 
they testified, without pain. 

"I was also familiar with the fact that, succeeding 
these experiments, Drs. Riggs and Terry com- 
menced and continued the use of the gas more or 
less frequently in their extensive practice of dental 
surgery, and I regard it as a fact with which the 
people of Hartford were more or less familiar that 
nitrous oxid gas, when inhaled in the respiratory 
organs, would have the effect upon the nervous sys- 
tem to produce insensibility to pain; that it had 
been and then was successfully used in severe dental 
and surgical operations. * * * I am quite cer- 
tain that, at a period commencing as early as De- 
cember, 1844, it was a matter with which many of 
the citizens of Hartford were personally familiar. 

>|< >£ ^c ^s >j< ^c ;js 

"Immediately after this operation to which I 
submitted (referring to the extraction of one of the 

The Fiftieth Anniversary 

teeth, which he so pertinently describes), a conversa- 
tion ensued between Drs. Marcy and Wells in regard 
to the use of ether as a substitute for nitrous oxid 
gas, in favor of its use as being more easily pre- 
pared, though not so safe to use, and nearly if not 
positively identical in its effects upon the nervous 
system. Dr. Marcy expressed himself as perfectly 
familiar with the effects of ether on the system, and 
decided to use it in a surgical operation which he 
was shortly after to perform." 

Extracts from the deposition of John Gaylord 
Wells, of Hartford, Conn. 

« * * * Having heard of the discovery I 
availed myself of the opportunity, and Dr. Wells 
extracted a tooth for me immediately after the ex- 
traction of his own. It was certainly in the month 
of December, 1844. The gas was given from a large 
bag. On this occasion I had one tooth removed, 
and a number afterward at different times, and all 
without pain. *********** 

"I heard of others having teeth drawn under the 
influence of the gas, and induced some to go. The 
subject was a topic of common conversation among 
my friends for several years after my first tooth was 
extracted under the influence of the gas, and I often 
heard Dr. W r ells converse on this subject, and he 
continued to consider it a very valuable discovery." 

Deposition of William H. Burleigh, of Hartford, 

''A little more than two years since I learned that 
Dr. Wells, dentist, of this city, had made the discov- 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

ery that by the use of an exhilarating gas or vapor 
he could render the nervous system insensible to 
pain under severe surgical operations, and that he 
was using it in his practice with great success. Hav- 
ing an opportunity to witness its effect on several 
persons during the operation of extracting teeth, I 
was so delighted and surprised with its manifest suc- 
cess that I desired a trial of it on myself. The gas 
was accordingly administered and two carious teeth 
were extracted from my lower jaw without the least 
suffering on my part, though ordinarily, owing to 
the firmness with which my teeth are fixed in my 
jaw, I suffer extreme pain from their extraction." 

Deposition of Norman W. Goodrich, of Hart- 
ford, Conn. 

" * * * In the month of December, A.D. 
1844, I heard that Dr. Wells had discovered a mode 
of preventing pain during dental operations. I first 
learned this fact from J. G. Wells, of this city, who 
informed me that he had a tooth extracted by Dr. 
Wells without any pain whatever. Soon after this 
I learned that Dr. Wells was constantly extracting 
teeth for persons without pain by administering ex- 
hilarating gas, as it was sometimes called. Some- 
time during the month of December, aforesaid, I 
accompanied J. G. Wells to the office of Dr. Wells 
for the purpose of witnessing an experiment upon 
said J. G. Wells, while under the influence of the gas. 
On reaching the office of Dr. Wells and making 
known our object, he informed us that Dr. Riggs, 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

who occupied an adjoining office, was desirous of ex- 
perimenting with the anesthetic agent discovered 
by him (Dr. Wells), and he would therefore adminis- 
ter the gas and allow Dr. Riggs to extract the tooth. 
Accordingly, Dr. Riggs was called in and extracted 
the tooth, after Dr. Wells had administered the gas. 
After Mr. J. G. Wells had inhaled the gas a few 
times he appeared to lose all consciousness, and 
manifested no signs of pain during the extraction 
of the tooth. On recovery from the effects of the 
gas he remarked that he felt no pain whatever. 

"A few days after the above experiment Mr. Wil- 
liam H. Burleigh and myself went to Dr. Wells's to 
have teeth extracted. We were accompanied by 
T. C. Goodrich, Henry R. Tracy, and others, whose 
names I do not now recall. This was just before 
dusk. When we entered the office we found, among 
others, a boy who held a large tooth in his hand, 
which he showed us, saying that Dr. Wells had just 
extracted it for him under the influence of the gas. 
He said he felt no pain, and did not know when the 
tooth was pulled. Mr. Burleigh and myself told Dr. 
Wells we had come to take the gas and have teeth 
extracted. Dr. Wells replied that he had been giv- 
ing the gas and pulling teeth all day, and was so 
tired and lame in consequence that he was unable 
to do anything more that day. But if we wanted 
our teeth out then he would administer the gas and 
let Dr. Riggs come in and draw the teeth. We 
agreed to that arrangement. Dr. Riggs came in; 
the gas was administered first to Mr. Burleigh and 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

his tooth extracted by Dr. Riggs. Mr. Burleigh 
seemed to experience no pain, and afterward said 
he felt none whatever. **.***,.,*** 

"A few months after this operation I accom- 
panied Walter S. Williams and our wives to the 
office of Dr. J. B. Terry, dentist, of this city, for the 
purpose of witnessing further experiments with this 
agent. Mr. Williams took the gas for the purpose 
of having a large tusk, which was very prominent 
and inconvenient, extracted. After inhaling a suf- 
ficient quantity of gas, Dr. Terry applied his instru- 
ments and endeavored to draw the tooth; he pulled 
upon it several times, and finally laid down his in- 
struments and said he was unable to extract it. 
During all this operation Mr. Williams seemed to 
suffer no pain, and on his recovery from the effects 
of the gas he said he had not felt the slightest sensa- 
tion of pain. 

"During the years 1845 an d 1846 I was con- 
stantly hearing of successful experiments with this 
gas by Dr. Wells and other dentists of this city." 

Deposition of Horace E. Havens, of Hartford, 

" * * * That some time between the 1 st of 
November, 1844, and the 1st of November, 1845, I 
called at the office of Dr. Horace Wells, corner of 
Asylum and Maine streets, in this city, and re- 
quested Dr. Wells to administer the gas to me for 
the purpose of having a tooth extracted; the gas 
was given to me from a large black bag with a 
mouth-piece ; I had heard that it was very successful 
in allaying pain in the extraction of teeth; I breathed 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

it a short time and Dr. Wells took out the tooth; 
Dr. Wells thought I should be easily affected, and 
gave me a smaller dose than usual, as he said the 
consequence was that I was not fully affected, 
though the pain was very much mitigated; I felt 
the operation some, though it was very trifling; I 
had two teeth extracted after this by Dr. Riggs 
(J. M. Riggs, of Hartford), and then took nitrous 
oxid gas made by him in a large cask; the gas was 
taken from a bag, and during the operation I felt no 
pain whatever; this was while John G. Wells was 
with Mr. Burr in the Secretary's office, and was in 
1845, previous to November 1." 

Deposition of Thomas Martin, of Hartford, 

" * * * In the summer of 1845, I think be- 
fore the middle of July, Dr. Wells extracted a tooth 
for me while I was under the influence of nitrous 
oxid gas. * * * The tooth — a large double 
one — was extracted by Dr. Wells himself. I felt no 
pain during the operation, and was much pleased 
with its effects. * * * It was a notorious fact 
that Dr. Wells and other dentists in this city were 
and had been extracting teeth for a long time prior 
to October, 1846, and under the influence and by 
the agency of some anesthetic agent." 

Extract from the deposition of John Gaylord 
Wells, of Hartford, Conn. 

After having stated that he had one tooth ex- 
tracted while under the influence of the gas in the 


Discovery of Anesthesia. 

month of December, 1844, and a number after at 
different times, and all without pain, he proceeds as 

"On one occasion sulfuric ether was administered 
by Dr. Wells. I am quite sure it was early in 1845, 
a long time anterior to the period when Dr. Mor- 
ton, of Boston, first announced his discovery. The 
ether was unpleasant in its effects, though the tooth 
was extracted without pain. I therefore advised my 
friends not to use it, but rather the exhilarating gas. 

"The number of teeth extracted under the in- 
fluence of the gas was five, and one under the influ- 
ence of the ether. In my former deposition it was 
stated six were extracted. It might be inferred that 
it was at one sitting. They were extracted, how- 
ever, at most part at different sittings. Only once 
did I have two removed at a time. I am sure the 
ether was given early in 1845. The ether was not 
given from a bag, but from some different appara- 

Deposition of Lydia Goodwin, of Hartford, 

* * * That in the spring of the year A.D. 
1845 or 1846, — according to the best of my recol- 
lection, in the year A.D. 1845, — I na d two teeth ex- 
tracted by Dr. Horace Wells, then a dentist in this 
city. * * * The agent used in the extraction 
of my teeth was called by Wells gas." 

Deposition of Angelina Griswold Whiting, of 
West Hartford, Conn. 

« * * * That in the month of July, 1846, 
I was spending a few days at Dr. E. E. Crofoot's, in 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

the city of Hartford, and during that time I had 
two teeth extracted by Dr. Crofoot while I was un- 
der the influence of nitrous oxid gas." 

Extract from the deposition of Walter S. Wil- 
liams, of Hartford, Conn. 

"I accordingly took the chair, and Dr. Terry ad- 
ministered to me what I supposed to be the newly- 
invented gas by Dr. Wells. This was administered 
to me from a mouth-piece attached to a pipe leading 
to a bottle or bag. I inhaled the gas and very soon 
became insensible. Dr. Terry then applied his in- 
struments, but did not succeed in extracting it. 
When I came to myself, which seemed like waking 
out of sleep, I saw Dr. Terry standing by my side 
seemingly exhausted; he said: 'I tried with all my 
might, but could not fetch it.' I experienced no 
pain whatever during the operation." 

Extract from the deposition of Hon. James 
Dixon, member of the House of Representatives in 
the twenty-ninth and thirtieth Congresses from the 
First Congressional District of Connecticut. 

" * * * I would add that the discovery of 
Dr. Wells was notorious in Hartford in the spring of 
1845, an d was then, and for some time had been, 
and continued to be, a frequent topic of conversa- 
tion. It excited great attention, and was deemed 
of much importance." 

Deposition of William W. Goodwin, of Boston, 

" * * * I am a native of Hartford, Conn., 
where I resided and pursued my business until Feb- 

Discovery of Anesthesia, 

ruary, 1845, with the exception of the years of 1837 
and 1838. About the middle of February, 1845, I 
came to this city, where I have since resided. Sev- 
eral weeks before leaving Hartford it was very gen- 
erally reported that the late Dr. Horace Wells, of 
that city, was extracting teeth without pain by an 
agent called by him nitrous oxid gas. Shortly be- 
fore leaving Hartford, I called at the office of Dr. 
Wells and he showed me the nitrate of ammonia 
from which he prepared the gas ; also some bags and 
apparatus used by him in administering the gas." 

Letter from C. B. Brewster, dentist, of Paris. 
"Paris, January 12, 1848. 

"My Dear Dr. Wells, — I have just returned from 
a meeting of the 'Parisian Medical Society,' where 
they have voted that 'to Horace Wells, of Hartford, 
United States of America, is due all the honors of 
having first discovered and successfully applied the 
uses of vapors or gases, whereby surgical operations 
could be performed without pain.' 

"They have done even more, for they have 
elected you an honorary member of their society. 

"This was the third evening that the society had 
deliberated upon the subject. On two previous oc- 
casions Mr. Warren, the agent of Mr. Morton, was 
present, and endeavored to show that to his client 
were due the honors; but he, having completely 
failed, did not attend at the last meeting. 

"The use of the ether took the place of nitrous 
oxid gas, but chloroform has supplanted both; yet 

The Fiftieth Anniversary 

the first person who first discovered and performed 
surgical operations without pain was Horace Wells, 
and to the last day of time must suffering humanity 
bless his name. 

"Your diploma and the vote of the P. M. S. shall 
be forwarded to you. In the interim you may use 
this letter as you please. 

"Believe me ever truly yours, 


Extract from the deposition of Mrs. Elizabeth 

"In the fall of 1846 my husband received a letter 
from Dr. Wm. T. G. Morton, of Boston, informing 
him that he had discovered some preparation or 
compound that would produce insensibility to pain, 
and which he had patented, and proposed that my 
husband should undertake a sale of the rights; to 
which letter my husband replied. Shortly after my 
husband concluded to go to Boston, with a view 
to ascertain what Dr. Morton had discovered, and 
invited me to accompany him. This was, if I mis- 
take not, on Saturday. We left home in the early 
morning train, and arriving in Boston in time to 
take dinner with the family where we stopped. Im- 
mediately after dinner my husband went out to see 
Dr. Morton, and returned after an absence of about 
two hours. On his entering the room I asked him 
whether Morton had discovered anything new. He 
replied: 'No>; it is my old discovery, and he does not 
know how to use it.' He added that he perceived 

Discovery of Anesthesia. 

what it was immediately on entering Dr. Morton's 
room, from the atmosphere; he said it was nothing 
but ether. I asked my husband whether he in- 
tended to assist Dr. Morton in selling his patent 
rights. He replied: 'No; he would have nothing to 
do with him.' We spent the Sabbath in Boston, 
and took the morning train for Hartford on Monday 

Extract from the deposition of Elizabeth Wil- 
liams, of Hartford, Conn. 

"Some time after this I saw Dr. W. T. (^Morton 
at Stafford Springs, and learning that he'was a den- 
tist I spoke of my tooth, and mentioned the fact 
that Dr. Wells had administered gas to me. I re- 
marked to him that I was among the first that took 
the gas. He asked about the effect and operation 
of the gas, and made no intimation of any acquaint- 
ance with or knowledge of the gas, or of any anes- 
thetic agent, and the conversation passed off by Dr. 
Morton's saying that he had recently invented some 
framework for teeth. According to the best of my 
remembrance and belief, I took the gas of Dr. Wells 
in the office of Dr. Riggs, on the 6th day of March, 
A.D. 1845, and I saw Dr. Morton at 'Stafford 
Springs' and had the conversation above referred to 
in the summer of 1846; it was certainly at no later 

Deposition of Oswin R. Roberts, of Hartford, 

"I came to Hartford in June, 1845, an d soon 
after my arrival I heard of Dr. Wells's discovery. 


The Fiftieth Anniversary 

"Dr. W. T. G. Morton called at our office this 
winter, prior to January, 1853, and had a long con- 
versation with us respecting the discovery of anes- 
thetic agents. He called to inquire about Wells's 
buying picture frames of us. Dr. Morton statett 
that he took his idea from Dr. Wells's use of nitrous 
oxid gas, but that the gas failed, and he went on 
perfecting the discovery until it resulted in the use 
of sulfuric ether." 


FEB 19 1901 

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